What is noise at the end of 2011? The term is too narrow to encompass the evolution of the genre and its vast scope, but harsh skree remains the defining facet of its genetic makeup. Although, maybe not? This is one of the questions that James Ferraro's Far Side Virtual asks. The former Skater, who is largely responsible for moving peaked noise away from its dogmatic roots, eschews the tape hiss psych, gunk glam, and oozing new age in favor of digital compositions so clean, serene, and outrageous that its sure to hit purists in the gut. And it does.
Ferraro, who’s always merged consumerism with his work, has crafted a record that could sit at the absolute center of New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix. It's both high brow and low brow, brilliant and despicable, using 21st century bourgeois liberties to craft a record so entirely of the moment that it's almost inconceivable. It's as shallow as a power lunch at Jamba Juice and as visceral as a trip up-and-down the coast of California. In many ways, it's similar to Ray Lynch's 1984 platinum album Deep Breakfast, which stands in inter-dimensional relation to Far Side Virtual, both products of consumer-focused New Age. As with Deep Breakfast, many will have trouble getting past the ever-present "cheese"-- here provided by MIDI-sequenced compositions, many of which seem to have been recorded on, or with sounds from his new Mac Pro. The “everyone can make music” program Garage Band is just one of the many products made at 1 Infinite Loop that finds its way into Far Side Virtual-- be it in the album art, the song titles, or the various samples.
And this might be why Far Side Virtual is so far-out, so mindblowingly accessible, and, at times-- especially for those who've followed his warped, ultra no-fi output for years-- so difficult. As always, it’s Ferraro using consumer electronics, but this time around, they are those of the present (Roland Juno DI, Laptop, Soft Synths) rather than those of yore (Casio sampling keyboards, cassettes, VHS). The impression of pop cultural primitivism gives way to that of an insanely polished, seamlessly composed master work. Each note of Far Side Virtual is meticulously crafted, to the point where it almost feels as if it were produced by a team of engineers, branding strategists, or social media gurus trying to make a pass at the Post-Animal Collective/Altered Zones generation.
To virgin ears, it sounds like anything but "avant," "experimental," or "psychedelic" music, and more like a collection created specifically to introduce power point presentations during board meetings at Pinkberry or Red Mango. And therein lies the LP’s most fascinating element: while it feels like it was crafted for the masses, Jim's outlandish but insanely "telling of the times" production is still just as biting, surreal and outrageous-- perhaps even more so than before. This is coming from a man who has released material under so many pseudonyms that there is no way his discography is correct, who released two different records with the same art (and more, or less, same sounds). He's a post-modern surrealist in the vein of Cory Archangel and Jon Rafman who featured logos for Best Buy, Monster Energy, and Cleatus the Fox Sports Robot on the cover an LP with a title inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero, itself a satire of genre films and their indulgent cliches.
Once again his work pinpoints the state of consumer culture at large, so much so that you’re likely hearing warped sounds from your MacBook as you read this on your MacBook. (Note: Jim uploaded the entire record, track-by-track, to YouTube and posted them on his blog yesterday. Additional note: You should follow him on Twitter, where his handle appropriately includes the extension for the Zip File.) The most fascinating element of all this is that there is no trace of bourgeois Billyburg irony on Far Side, but rather an unbiased, clear report on the state of culture and society as we head into the year of the Media-created apocalypse. The joke isn't on us, it is us. Which makes you wonder, is James Ferraro our Geppetto, or is he simply telling it like it is?