Chiptune Tuesday: Zan-zan-zawa-veia

It’s been a while since the last Chiptune Tuesday, so let’s bring it back in style: with some downright eclectic music from Zan-zan-zawa-veia (Susan Sawyer-Bayer), a legendary/obscure (depends on where you stand within the chiptune scene) artist who has been releasing wilfully bizarre music since at least 2008.

Now, ZZZV’s music is a unique blend of jazz, funk and prog, viewed through the prism of old computer game music. This weird spectrum of influences produces some pretty interesting results. These results are released under a bizarre array of pseudonyms, personas and fursonas including Anna Y. Nyanya, Gnassurus, Krystal Fox, Nu-hu-meila and Liminique. Or maybe these are equally-pseudonymous collaborators? ZZZV is also a member of at least three other bands: Agamemnon, Didactic Sudanese Transplant Waiters and Vargid Police (There might not be any other members of Vargid Police — if there are, discogs.com doesn’t know about them.)

ZZZV plays her cards close to her chest, and by hiding her(?) identity under layers of masks forces the listener to focus on the music, and the psuedonyms themselves, rather than the artist. Of course, I approve entirely of this sort of gesamtkunstwerk.

Not all of ZZZV's avatars and personae are human. This feline furry turns up a lot in album art.

Not all of ZZZV’s avatars and personae are human. This feline furry turns up a lot in album art.

ZZZV’s music is, as I’ve already said downright eclectic. Each album or EP (except the compilations, of which there are many, collected by labels or as officially-acknowledged bootlegs) has a fairly tight concept, and tracks that don’t fit in will get left until the release of a session where they fit. Any kind of chip sounds and white noise seem to be fair game for use as instruments, but other than that ZZZV’s palette is fairly sparse, giving her work a pleasantly minimalist feel. The use of white noise with a swept envelope to invoke the sound of waves (that old gameboy stand-by) shows up to great effect on the track Hrbr Mster on the album Myse Fyce.

ZZZV's album covers share the lo-fi digitized aesthetic of the music. I suspect that MSPaint is used to create them.

ZZZV’s album covers share the lo-fi digitized aesthetic of the music. I suspect that MSPaint is used to create them.

A sizeable fraction of the myriad tunes in ZZZV’s back-catalogue have titles that are made of two four-character words. Moon Down, Murk Maid, and Lest Thou all spring easily to mind, but ZZZV has been known to use unconventional spellings non-letters to make titles fit this format; Vynl GawdWrld GoBy, UpTo 100%, etc. The albums Meep Meep, Meep Jeep and Meep Weep cheat a bit at this: they are collections of short tracks, musical “sketches” if you will, each of which is titled Meep  #0xx, where XX is a two-digit number. And of course, the two-word eight-letter “rule” is abandoned whenever it’s not useful to convey the concept the music is expressing.

Album concepts can include tributes to river-dwelling dragons or to the Great Pacific Trash Vortex, stories about the artist’s cats, and other, less intelligible ideas.

Good luck figuring out what this album is about without listening to it.

Good luck figuring out what this album is about without listening to it.

The total effect of all the weirdness is the same sense of unease that comes from looking at Surrealist paintings. Something’s not quite right, but you get the sense that it’s deliberately not quite right.

ZZZV’s music is progressive in the sense that it’s constantly changing as the artist explores new sounds (rather than in the sense of being a tribute to certain 1970’s rock bands, although that’d be OK, too). Since the music is so ecelectic, not all of it is for everyone. My favourite tracks include the uncharacteristically metal Vile Core, the baroque and layered Lest Thou, and the staccato chirping and NES-esque arpeggios of Fuzz Ball. There are some other tracks (such as most of the Fell Plot EP) that I find a bit grating.


Much of Zan-zan-zeia’s music can be found at her bandcamp page, where it can be streamed for free or bought for download.  Marshare’s Emporium of Curi-oddities and Con-humdrums, another Bandcamp page, hosts among other things a 3-volume compliation album of ZZZV’s early work. More ZZZV stuff is scattered elsewhere across the ‘net for the intrepid explorer to find. She can be contacted via her facebook page. As I said above, it’s not for everyone, and I suspect that ZZZV doesn’t give a monkey’s about being accessible, so I’d recommend giving it your ear via streaming before laying money down.

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