Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The question of genre is of interest to both linguists and ethnomusicologists, and while sung language in musical genre has attracted particular attention (Turpin 2007; Nancarrow 2010), visual language is less studied. With visual modalities increasingly important in the age of internet-mediated musics (Born & Haworth 2017), this study examines a new musical genre constructed through language across multiple modalities: Vaporwave.
Using manipulated 1980s pop and elevator music, Vaporwave creates “alienating reinterpretations of familiar sounds” (Koc 2017:61; Glitsos 2018) through a combination of music and both sung and written language — particularly in Japanese titles and album art. The use of Japanese by non-Japanese-speaking Vaporwave artists is not to be understood linguistically, but rather as an Orientalist marker of otherness central to the genre’s themes (Chandler 2016), and this digital linguistic landscape (Landry & Bourhis 1997) is integral to how Vaporwave is consumed.
This paper examines how linguistic landscapes interact with multilingual soundscapes to construct Vaporwave through what I term ‘musicolinguistic landscapes’: multimodal bundles of music, sung language, and visual language. Analysis of fan discourse and the music of three representative artists — Macプラス (USA), 猫シCorp. (Netherlands), and マクロスMACROSS82-99 (Mexico) — shows that appropriate aural soundscapes (including music and language) and visual linguistic landscapes are both necessary for the overall product to be read as authentically ‘Vaporwave’. These results add to our understanding of how language can shape musical genre across multiple concurrent modalities, as well as how the concept of linguistic landscapes can be extended to a musicolinguistic framework.