Donor Lens - Desire Path
May 6, 2022
An aura of strangeness and mythology around a vaporwave release is a common thing. Artists often employ these feelings purposely, as they align with the ghostly sound and aesthetic that the genre so often conveys. But only a few releases have achieved that lofty position of having a lasting mysterious quality to them. It is safe to say, that Sunset Virtual’s Visions deserves a place on this pedestal. Released on Illuminated Paths in the summer of 2016, it was promptly taken down around 30 minutes after. Luckily, some hawk-eyed fans were able to purchase it, the only reason it is available to listen to today. The artist has subsequently disappeared, their facebook page remaining inactive for a few years now.
Fragile notes begin to pulse under a hazy crackle. These slow and formless chords almost sound more akin to calculated pieces of machinery that just happen to be melodic in their tone, they feel timid and out of focus. The tunefulness of these sounds is supported by its accompanying instruments, a multitude of sun-kissed, yawning guitars. Some notes rise and droop as the player glides from one to the next, other collections of notes wallow in a melancholy warmth. Everything rests in a sibilant vapour, this mirage of relaxation of sunlight appearing from a strange haze. It is almost like some beautiful ode to a humid and heavenly place playing out through unfit speakers as we make our way through a set of unknown corridors. We continue on, desperate to find the door out onto the deck to watch the day come to an end. Sunset Virtual keeps our focus on this 7 or 8 seconds of audio, pulling it back and playing through it once again. While listening to Digital Mist, the listener begins to envision something that they will see a fair amount in their minds eye as Visions plays through. They see a form, be it a person, a spirit, wisping fog or rising steam from a source of heat. The listener watches this form dance through the air gracefully. The most beautiful point of its movement captured and replayed for us.
A set of dulcet keys come to rest lightly against lush grassland as Dream starts. The resonance of this instrument already conjuring visions of peace and tranquility. An organic guitar plays, its notes working their way halfway up the fretboard. Again, there is this sense of something cavorting or dancing through the aether above us. The keys fall gently for a second before blooming upwards, as if caught on a light breeze of warm air. The artist holds everything so perfectly in this special state of repose, it’s like we are slowly approaching a clearing, the breeze from the sea blowing through to us as we emerge from greenery. Wind chimes sway in the background, the sea giving everything a mystical, iridescent hue. The melody of the track has similarities to buddhist chants, as too does its repetitive nature. It is almost like a chant like Namo Amituofo has coalesced with the beautiful, widening mouth of the sea.
We enter more into a more built up environment in Fuji. The tumult of a lively beach scene careers into focus, the same resonant, sparkling hue accompanied by waves that slowly fall into the background. A set of bongo drums and the general rhythm of the bass cushion our fall into a gentle rhythm. In this track we hear the aged quality of what the artist is showing us, as the melody judders and droops now and again. A repeating imperfection in the otherwise cool and calm vision.
A change of tact comes in the form of Hidden. The keys that up to this point have been sonorous and glassy are replaced with a more classic sounding piano playing out a tragic melody. The bass section consists of three main notes, one used as a pedal as the player moves up and down between the other two. The melodic accompaniment is short but incisive in its heartbreaking tune. The feedback here is palpable, as we hear the piano’s notes waver and shake under its pressure.
We dive back into lower frequencies, Web Jungle landing us suddenly in a thick undergrowth of rumbling percussion and labyrinthine bass notes. The eerie greeny-blue darkness of night appears overhead every so often, strange keys float overhead, joined by a slightly wavering, starlit melody. The percussion is some of the most intricate we’ve heard so far, the artist accomplishing this ever-shifting backdrop that mirrors the complexities of a real jungle landscape. Sunset Virtual does this incredible job of melding earthy sounds and notions, with a strange, otherworldly serenity.
The sound gets more overtly commercial with glittery synth and inoffensive percussion. Virtual Fountain‘s bassline keeps things moving, as the listener is treated to shallow and shimmering infomercial music. Even though the track lacks the depth of some of those before it, everything still sounds like its playing out underneath an extremely powerful, glowing sun. Everything wavering slightly, like an illusion in the heat.
Mirage brings back those cascading plumes of melody. Decadent notes pirouette in the air above the listener, two distinct forms taking it in turns to ride the buffeting breeze up higher into the sky. Every so often the arpeggiating euphoria pushes gently against the gauze of the mix, everything sizzling with feedback.
The artist begins to pivot between a range of sounds, the commercialised one that seems to push out of the transistors of a crackling television set, the more abstract sounds of disorientation characterised by arpeggiation of formless euphoria, and the sorrowful piano heard in Hidden. As if our attention is swaying gently from the small TV in our esplanade, out to the amorphous sea, and then in turn into ourselves. Everything bathed in sweltering sunlight. Waterfall brings us back to our small television as weather channel music begins to play. Gentle, unassuming chord progression fizzle through small speakers. A piano plays alongside percussion that sustains a gentle and slow-moving momentum. That beautiful canned feeling of advertisement is captured. The commercial possibilities are endless. The melodic narrative illustrates promise and positivity, but it leaks awkwardly out under a thick layer of hiss.
A short, sharp wisp of melody rides on the back of a reversed cymbal. This gives rise to the lucid, dreamlike melody of Vapor. A melody line that deviates from one note to the other in a touching trill, as shrouds of emotive pads cloud over. Everything flickers with fragility, the melancholy tune quivering under its own weight. The bass and percussion work in tandem, the cymbals and kick clearing the way for a bass to thump in with a meaningful impact. Again, like the tracks that began the album, there is something in this that is deeply hypnotic. The artist relies more heavily on the euphoria of the tune, and in its repetition lulls the listener into a strange limbo between consciousness and sleep.
Eternal signals another austere piano interlude. A dramatic refrain plays out, a touch of classical lament about it. Untouched by any discernible echo or effects, its tragic melody is pointed squarely at the listener, its heartbreaking feeling undeniable and inescapable.
A heavy and humid air falls as Data Loss begins. Birds call out into an ominous, digitised environment. A foreboding tone languishes in the air all around, synthesis meshing with flora and fauna to make a strange hybrid. There are certain forms that can be heard within the unrelenting stream of sound, metallic flashes and flares as it grows slightly. The track feels like the anguish after a some situation of misfortune, the piercing gaze of self-reflection. We slowly lose the eerie pad as it seems to evaporate into the wildlands beyond our location.
Awakening floats in. As the track starts, the listener envisions a drab, 90s pastiche. The percussion has this hypnotic feeling reminiscent of new-age, 90s muzak. But as we make our way through the track, the sparkling lead pushes a real emotive feeling. Working together with the bassline, as the two lift in pitch at the end of the bar, they do feel genuinely positive and warming. The percussion swirls in a dreamlike slovenliness still, something about it seeming incredibly surreal and almost unnerving. Its a soup of sounds that would otherwise sound fairly daunting, if it weren’t for the melodies being indebted to a positive vibe.
Sunset Virtual ends by showcasing that more spiritually enlivening side of Visions‘ sound. Music blurts out as if bouncing off of some sort of hard surface. We hear angelic choirs, wavering slightly under the low fidelity. From the same location, twinkling chimes play out a binary sequence instilling a sense of heavenly ascent to Crystal. A bass tone sweeps in, it too under the same pressure of crackle and hiss. It is as if we watch angels floating down to earth on a small and defunct television set. The feeling is undeniably one of thanatological deliverance. The sound Sunset Virtual delivers is much too owing to the choirs and glassy bells to not be a finale to more than just the album, but of a life or intensely meaningful moment.
It is hard to get to grips with Visions, the story that surrounds the album’s releasing and subsequent deletion inevitably play a part in the experience of the listeners that have learnt about it. It would be unfair to say that the mysticism behind the album does not play a part in its effectiveness at points. However, what can be stated with certainty is that Sunset Virtual reaches undiscovered depths when it comes to utilising a signalwave methodology, and really does place the listener in a vivid and uncanny realm. There is an engaging pressure that throbs throughout the album, the music sounding fragile at points. This pressure is also felt by the listener, a searing heat that we almost feel the need to shield ourselves from. This heat and humidity is engineered and executed perfectly by the artist.