TV2 talks Signalwave
By Caroline Moore
Back in 2020 local music nerds were entranced by a new wave of sonic nostalgia emerging from mysterious Aotearoa signalwave artist TV2 & her expanding programme of aliases.... Three years later, we reached out to ask her to give us the lowdown on what led to such a dreamlike collection of casual listening albums created from the sounds of Aotearoa’s bygone eras of broadcasting.
What is signalwave?
Signalwave, a microgenre within Vaporwave, is the art of sampling television and radio broadcasting of the past for creative musical purposes, usually with the aim of evoking nostalgia. Artists find archived TV/Radio clips (usually from the 80s or 90s) that are rich in background music and then use chop and screw techniques to give their project its own structure. This can involve turning a 30 second commercial into a 4 minute track, cutting a 10 second clip out of a 30 minute teletext and then looping it for 2 minutes, and pretty much anything in between. The idea of a “song” in signalwave is somewhat misleading, as multiple different sampled music clips are often used within 1 track, and some tracks feature no music at all (distortion, static, voice clips, etc). Effects are then added, usually to further distort or master the sample but sometimes effects like reverb and delay are used, popular in other vaporwave subgenres for their ability to create a nostalgic, dreamy atmosphere. Album art usually consists of simply a VHS screencap that encapsulates the theme of the album. These are often found through the same media artists get their audio samples from. The end result creates an immersive listening experience that can evoke a wide variety of emotions but a mysterious type of nostalgia is always the most common.
I made my first signalwave album in October of 2020 under the name "TV2", inspired by TVNZ 2 and it's association with my childhood. I had been a long time fan of signalwave legends like sport3000 and 天気予報 but noticed no one had made signalwave using New Zealand samples, so decided it was a niche I had to fulfill.
Due to signalwaves relatively small learning curve, even as someone who had never produced music of any kind before, this quickly became an addictive hobby. I started branching out into using other samples and creating other aliases, the first being "carpet dust", which involved sampling old romantic spanish songs. When slowed down and distorted effectively, it gave off an eery nostalgia that I found fitting to associate with 2nd hand stores, a concept inspired by the sport3000 track "artifact".
Second came "ESIAFI 1" (named after a random satellite I found on a Wikipedia page) which was intended to be more focused on satellite aesthetics. It's common practice in vaporwave to use different aliases for projects that differ drastically (or not so drastically) in theme from the rest of an artists work. I created ESIAFI 1 to give myself the freedom to sample TV from anywhere in the world as long as it fit the "satellite" or telecommunications theme, although it quickly became focused on 80s - 90s Chinese broadcasting, which I found especially fascinating. As these projects gained small but meaningful notoriety within the vaporwave scene I found myself investing more and more time into making signalwave. I decided to move the focus of TV2 specifically onto making New Zealand themed signalwave (which would later become very limiting) while also creating almost a dozen other aliases under my short lived digital only label "frequency sub-zero". During this time I was putting out multiple albums every month, something that in almost every other genre would be considered extremely rushed but is acceptable in signalwave.
A release of mine called “night-time television service” under an alias I created for it called “national network” received particular notoriety when it was uploaded to Youtube by channelsurfing and later mentioned in a Pad Chennington video (ironically Pad Chennington’s video on signalwave in early 2019 was the only reason I discovered the genre in the first place). The entire album was made from a teletext I found on Youtube with songs of a very similar sound and theme. Chopped, screwed and effects layered, it matched perfectly with a screencap of an Australian commercial I had been waiting to use for a while.
Fans of signalwave often start out as casual listeners, putting it on as background noise and gradually growing a personal attachment to it. The personal attachment fans make to these albums tends to be a more driving factor of a project's success than the actual quality of production or effort put into an album, hence the case of night-time television service.
THE UNIQUENESS OF AOTEAROA'S BROADCASTING CULTURE
While I’ve mostly retired now from making “New Zealand signalwave” due to running out of usable samples and finding the theme needlessly limiting, one of the things that drew me towards making it in the first place (aside from just being more relatable) was the uniqueness of our broadcasting culture during the 80s and 90s compared to that of the rest of the world. This is especially true for the TVNZ network with the iconic “Goodnight Kiwi” and shows like “What Now” just starting up. It’s hard to explain but our television jingles, closedowns, continuities and adverts being either upbeat and cheery or cozy and cute while presenting itself in a down to earth and humble manner is a wider theme found in New Zealand television that still continues to this day. While this was nothing more than an effective marketing tactic, it gives the signalwave albums that sample it a particularly homely feel to them.
THE SIGNALWAVE COMMUNITY AND ITS AUDIENCE
The concept of signalwave may seem like an odd thing to enjoy for a non listener. After all, who would want to listen to hour long albums of ads? And if I wanted to listen to the ambience of a TV or radio, why not just turn one on?
An interesting thing about signalwave is that it seems to attract any kind of music fan, often ones who otherwise have no music taste in common with eachother. I think it's because there's something universally relatable about it. When we think back to our childhoods, whatever decade they were, for many of us TV defined the soundtrack to those years. Jingles and ads repeating and cementing themselves into our minds, while at the time designed only to sell things to us or our parents, are now a virtual time machine into a simpler time, a time where the most important thing on our minds was "not another bloody ad break, I want to get back to watching the rugby". Samples we don't recognize can be even more interesting, as a glimpse into the nostalgia of other generations and other parts of the world, that we now get to experience for ourselves.
For anyone just learning about this strange microgenre it can be daunting to figure out the best of the best due to the genres small publicly available discussion and knowledge. My personal recommendation of artists to start out with when just getting into the genre are Sport3000, 天気予報, 空気系, CT57, Ethereal Media and Infinity Frequencies.