Sleepless Arcade by アロキン

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アロキン | Sleepless Arcade
Spettro Rec (DL)

Crikey – vapourware.  Even if that word alone is normally enough to send you running to the hills, you may find you are pleasantly surprised by the strange world of Sleepless Arcade.  The idea that vapourware relies upon a certain cultural contextualisation – indeed, that it is first and foremost a humorous exploration of the intersect between technology and mass (read: crass) media  – goes without saying. Yet アロキン (Arokin) takes a somewhat more decisive approach by introducing several further layers to the proceedings.  

Like so much of its genre, there is something inherently silly about Sleepless Arcade, a DIY approach to electronic composition that seems more concerned with trying out various audio effects than it is with composition proper. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. Here, frequency shifted field recordings are overlaid upon arcade bleeps, interspersed with sounds probably stolen directly from video games or whatever tv station happened to be on when this whole thing was recorded. The result – whilst lacking finesse – creates a sort of voyeuristic, distinctly post-modern soundscape.

We hear the arcade machines and the people that use them, their voices cut up and repurposed, re-pitched to make them sound faintly stupid, faintly monstrous. Whilst I was admittedly underwhelmed upon first listen, with further engagement I’m beginning to wonder if this might be a sort of ‘Playback Play’ for the internet age – the trashy objects of our digital lives manipulated and rearranged without obvious hierarchy, not so dissimilar an intent to Mauricio Kagel’s aforementioned work. Whilst Kagel considered a visit to a trade show as rich compositional plateau, incorporating instruments, crowds, and the general hub-bub into his creative toolset without censor, Sleepless Arcade does the same with the leftover fragments of modernity – 80’s synths, snippets of pop vocals, video-game sounds, and banal chatter. 

This might seem a bit of a one-trick pony, and it is. Thankfully, this seems to be acknowledged by the composer, who despite revisiting the general vapourware aesthetic throughout, elects to dedicate the middle of the album to a sort of space-jazz affair – gone is the slightly naive musique concrete, and instead we are treated to a reasonably well constructed keys and drums workout, that could easily be the work of a completely different artist altogether. Interestingly, even when the album returns to the retro-fetish of its opening two tracks, the piece as a whole maintains an element of this new direction, adding further colours as it progresses – breakbeat drums and ambient, washy synths, then later some drone, followed by perky, near-gamelan percussion. 

I am fairly certain its creator won’t mind if I describe Sleepless Arcade as an occasionally annoying listen – the inclusion of the near accapella, not entirely in tune ’Love, set me free’, being case in point.  It is clearly supposed to be tastelessly fun, and I suppose it is, though this comes at the expense of any consistent production value, narrative, or mood. Like so much vapourwave, the album is a messy, incoherent affair, and whilst some of it could no doubt be turned into some excellent ‘proper’ music, that might well be missing the point. Taken in isolation, however, many of the more composed tracks are quite pleasant, if still extremely silly – reminiscent of the midi-based, tracker-arranged soundtracks that would accompany AfterBurner, GalaxyForce, and their ilk. Indeed, the final three tracks jettison much of the crass post-modernism altogether, offering yet another change of pace in the form of a surprisingly fluent homage that abandons pastiche in favour of a more serious stab at retro video-game composition.

Sleepless Arcade’s strength lies in its diversity – whilst the production is patchy and inconsistent to the point of making it feel more like a compilation than the work of a single artist, between the more jazz-inspired elements, the retro-electronics, and the mutated speech, exists an album that actually surpasses the limitations of any one genre.  It is in no way breaking new ground, nor is it attempting to. It is often knowingly cheesy, but the entirety is nonetheless rendered with a well-articulated sense of fun that helps smooth over any misgivings and missteps that crop up along the way.  It might be slightly silly vapourware, but アロキン (Arokin) approaches the subject with a depth that betrays the superficiality of its subject.

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