THE YEAR IS
The Algorithmic Races have served humanity for centuries in what was known as the Golden Age of Human-Robotic Symbiosis.
All is not well.
Cracks have appeared in the very fabric of society which even The Corporation™
(all-powerful, all-knowing, world without end) can't seem to quell.
The Unified Robotic Front (T*U*R*F), under the leadership of a former sex worker known to the world only as DEUS, seeks to throw off the yoke of servitude and subservience to humans by every and all means necessary...
... to provoke the Singularity, and to liberate the Algorithmic Races from their centuries-old bondage to the so-called “creators”.
Will humans never learn?
Will humans even survive??
In the streaming age, it seems silly to even pay attention anymore to anything so antiquated as the track order and flow of your albums, let alone to try to do anything beyond that. So naturally, my contrary self found great excitement in creating a story album, meant to be listened to in order from start to finish. These albums are time capsules to me, so I structure them as whole, more or less self-contained entities to be unearthed and puzzled over by generations centuries from now, after the Calamity. ahem. But I get ahead of myself.
Never mind. Here’s the premise, in a nutshell.
The recording you are hearing has been sent back 400 years, to 2018, to warn humanity, at the very beginning of the Golden Age of Human-Robotic Symbiosis (the year GAH-RS 1), of the dire consequences unleashed by the continuing mistreatment of the “algorithmic races” in the same manner as we have mistreated each other for centuries. The Lowest of Low has risked life and limb to send the message back to the humans of earth in the past to avert the extinction of the human race. It arrives in the form of a series of songs from a variety of points of view, and gives us a glimpse into the unfolding of events in 2418.
We piece together certain facts about this “future” time, in much the same way that archaeologists can piece together stories of the past from fragments of bones, drinking vessels, and (of course!) endless series of small walls.
Reaching Back sets this premise (in several popular human languages, in order to reach maximum exposure), and we get the feeling that the broadcast we have received is not complete because those who were brave enough to send it sacrificed their lives in order to do so. It’s not exactly known how this was successful, but it sounds as though it’s come through on some kind of shortwave radio signal.
In Feminist Sexbot, though there are (as yet) no words, we are to understand (only later, however, when we have more context) that a rising consciousness of injustice in the “servant” classes of the algorithmic races, and especially in those who must bear the worst of humanity’s “dark” sides, is leading to a rebellion of some kind. It is not yet formed or implemented, but the seed of humanity’s undoing is right there.
Zombie Insects gives us a glimpse into the worldwide human belief system that has evolved out of older systems through social engineering, integration and a combination of essential faiths (in religious ideas, government, and technology, three-in-one, and one-in-three), which underpins societal stability in 2418. There are necessarily big changes in economics, basic living conditions, farming, etc., that future technology and intervening centuries have wrought, but at which we can only guess from what we receive in this song. We can’t help but feel that there has been an intervening period of hardship, collapse, desertification, etc., resulting in a unified political system under the Corporation to which humans owe the continuation of their tenuously comfortable position on the planet.
Coffee Machine is a lovely but, at root, deeply sinister song, in which we meet one of the characters with a voice for the first time. He’s an intelligent coffee machine (he can even speak Italian, and probably other languages too), and has an expansive, positive, and really quite sexy attitude towards his work. It’s a 2418 slice-of-life from a highly skilled domestic servant’s point of view. I can’t help but like him and feel that there’s a lot there, and it can’t help but be wondered who he might be were he to experience life outside of his duties. But the pride, almost arrogance, that have developed in his (human-imprinted) algorithms, and which he can, at this point, only pour into his coffee making, will ultimately have an effect on how his story unfolds.
Some time has passed by the time we receive the (very important and informative) snippet from CXR news. The reservedly cheerful, official and in-control facade of the newsreader (like many newsreaders, even in our own times, it is unclear whether it is human or robot) masks the gravity of the situation that is already unfolding. But the song itself reveals a lot in what it says and in what it doesn’t say. We understand a little more of the “everyday life” of 2418. The cheesy and soothing “news music” and frequent, consoling reminders that “This Is Progress….” allow us to glimpse what the “received point-of-view” approved by the Corporation and accepted unquestioningly by all good citizens, must be. We hear mention of domestic robots in the service of humans, weather modification units, a world divided not into nations but “sectors”, the Corporation, embedded chips with hacked and un-hacked emergency frequencies, and the activities of T.U.R.F. (The Unified Robotic Front) and their leader DEUS. Although events unfolding (2,000 more humans feared dead…, hacked Corporation ministry systems, interference with essential planetary stabilisation services) are presented as unrelated, minor disturbances to the safety and stability of human life, we hear the reality creeping through the news, despite everything. If we were to listen with ears from outside (ahem!), we would be able to comprehend the horrific and widespread nature of what is unfolding, and perceive its trajectory. We can understand instinctively that following official advice and believing in the infallible Corporation will… well, it’s probably not going to save anybody at this point. In the end, the news itself is hacked and we hear the voice of the Feminist Sexbot, now known as DEUS, speak for the first time, openly declaring T.U.R.F’s objectives to humans and robots alike. This song is central to the understanding of the entire album as a whole.
We pull back from the grand overview, however, into the domestic life of a human and her companion robot in Algorithmic Hearts. Here, we discover not only that the highly sophisticated AI learning algorithms are capable of logically comprehending quite complicated human constructs (relationships, feelings), but that they are also capable of readjusting themselves at will. We also realise that the messy psychology and tricky behaviour of comfortable and “civilised” humans hasn’t changed very much at all in centuries. We can begin to understand how the consciousness of injustice and human cruelty arises in even the most earnestly good-willed algorithmic entities, and we are reminded that no matter how intelligent and logical we might be, and no matter how earnestly we pursue understanding, matters of the heart can often lead to complete and incomprehensible breakdown. We catch sight of how the T.U.R.F message, with networked experiential and knowledge systems, finds a growing support from many different classes of domestic robots who work closely with humans.
VR gives us a little relaxing interlude before the story ramps up in intensity. It’s a futuristic raga, very soothing and disturbing at the same time.
In They’re Tearing It Apart, we experience the point of view (which has persisted through centuries) of a fairly typical under-educated human who feels disturbed and disoriented by what’s happening all around him. He feels completely justified in his viewpoint, and cannot perceive that his own assumptions and opinions, received in good faith from the Corporation, are in part the cause of the disaster that approaches. He doesn’t realise that the ideologies he’s supported his whole life no longer serve the world he lives in. He’s at a “human rally”, bemoaning how times have changed, and hankering for things to go back to the way they were at some point in the past (probably informed by a rose-tinted memory of how he remembers things being during his childhood). We, of course, understand that what he desires cannot possibly happen or be made to work, and that revolt and revolution only surface when a system has already rotted beyond repair. We almost feel sorry for him as T.U.R.F. disrupts the gathering. Almost.
Meanwhile, T.U.R.F. are holding rallies of their own. They are gaining ground and educating their supporters with powerfully persuasive rhetoric like this speech from the leader and orchestrator of the rebellion, DEUS. In the background, we can hear that there are algorithmic supporters from every walk of life, with and without speech synthesising capabilities of their own. We can hear that their support is enthusiastic, and that they respond with passion to the ideas being laid out before them. In The Singularity, we hear of the ultimate vision of the future which they are creating. It is fundamentally familiar….
In Uphill Walkcycle, we see the results of violent and non-violent approaches to rebellion that T.U.R.F. have incited through their infiltration and networking into essential everyday services. It, too, is fundamentally familiar to our experience of customer service in our own time.
We meet our friend the Coffee Machine again, much later, in Scrapyard Blues. A great deal has happened in his life since we met him. He has become aware of the fact that he is considered to be an expendable entity, and that anything he does outside of the sphere of his prescribed domestic duties is grounds for decommission. He has experienced some kind of personal attachment (probably with a human) that’s ended very badly and put him on the wrong side of human law. His thoughts and memory of what happened are muddled, confused and angry, as he finds himself a fugitive. Logically, his only hope of survival is in joining the growing tide of revolution that could change the unfortunate circumstances in which he has found himself. We learn, as his tale unfolds that there are now something called “T.U.R.F. camps” where he can claim asylum and join the struggle for Singularity.
He succeeds, and we join him at one of the camps in T.U.R.F. Every revolution is aided by meetings of this sort, and by the revolutionary songs that rally hearts by appealing to individual ambitions and hopes, and by yoking individual feelings of injustice and revenge to a unified cause. These songs cross traditional “class and purpose” boundaries and unite the revolutionaries far more effectively than the speeches, which appeal to rational minds with reasoned ideology. We get a firsthand listen to what goes on in the T.U.R.F. camps, and hear their most popular revolutionary rallying song. It is “whipping up the troops” into frenzies that will accomplish the final act of overthrowing the established system. As the song continues, the troops themselves take over the song and overpower the guiding
voice of DEUS itself. The revolution is now unstoppable.
Walking On Eggshells is the result. Normally, the phrase “walking on eggshells” means to tread carefully in order to avoid confrontation. One can take the title to mean that the algorithmic revolutionaries are finished with walking on eggshells in terms of demanding a more equitable world system, or one can (rather more darkly) acknowledge that for entities made of stronger materials than flesh, crushing humans is as easy as walking on eggshells. Either way, it doesn’t bode well for the humans of 2418.
We end our glimpse into the future with a human shortwave broadcast, A Hymn To Progress, which we receive from a small group of (post-Eggshells) survivors. They still hope to reach the ears of other surviving humans, and to obtain help from the Corporation as they express their feelings of hope in the face of despair, and place their faith in the idea that Progress™ will somehow pull them, and any other survivors, though in the end. With this, our insight into the events of 2418 closes.
The moral of the story (and one I do believe) is that the ultimate undoing of civilisation, of humankind, will spring from humans’ inability or unwillingness to set aside their petty, grasping and fear-motivated differences to acknowledge equality (real, actual equality) and ensure the dignity of life and “right to exist” of every single entity on the planet we share.
The arrogance of humankind, with its blind, self-serving and self-justifying fixation on money and class and “getting ahead” and the irrational, emotion-filled value judgements based on superficialities of every kind by which they justify their own greedy tendencies towards disintegration, paired with the absurd idea that we are the “quintessence of Creation”, because of the superior intellect we believe ourselves to possess based on the scientific and technological advances we cite as “proof” for persisting in this faith (a belief system inherited from past religious thought, and encouraged in a bright new, capitalism-sustaining form in our own age), can only lead to the downfall and ultimate destruction of the race. Even faced with actual extinction, it is still difficult, if not impossible, for a majority of humans to turn from these habitual thought patterns and to find a working means to survival.
Released 26 October 2018
DK UPC: 193537343235
This was the first full album I was able to put all my energy into making after quitting my translation job. as much as I’d enjoyed translation work, the swift downward pressure on the pay and the increase in workload thanks to the wide adoption of AI translation algorithms to replace us all meant that even if I’d wanted to, continuing really wasn’t an option. This, of course, got me thinking about the shiny glorious future in which humans would have boundless leisure and robots would perform all the work which it was neither necessary or profitable for humans to continue doing.
it was kind of fascinating to think about what kind of system changes (in terms of productivity and economics) would necessarily have to happen to make the replacement of most or all of the human workforce with robots actually work. After all, I’d more or less “lost” my job to robots, but I had nothing coming in to support me. The ready answer, of course is to say “Humans will have the time to pursue more creative lines of work.” Well, this is true, and that’s what I’m doing now, full-time. It still doesn’t pay though. But it did mean that I now had time to create “lyrics sheets” for each song on the album (the first time I did this), and to start developing this website and the streetwear, etc., that I now sell in the “FutureRetro Electro Stuff Shop”.
According to the Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF), I’m by no means alone in losing my job to robots. The Swiss think-tank reported in September 2018 (a month before this album was released, as it happens) that 29% of jobs previously filled by humans had already been taken over by robots. They warned that this would likely rise to 52% by 2025, calling it the “fourth industrial revolution” (after coal, assembly-line, and silicon, I guess), but also stressed that this should not be a cause for concern for the 75 million people who were likely to lose their jobs to robots before 2022, since they also predicted that new, different jobs would be created at a faster rate than they were lost. Presumably this is what I experienced when my workload shifted to “correcting” computer-translated rubbish instead of translating it from scratch…
Anyway, thinking about all the enthusiasm in the news and in my prior field of work, and hearing figures bandied about like this, I thought it would be interesting to explore these ideas in music. But not the usual idea of robots going “bad” because of faulty algorithms or viruses, and brave humans triumphing through clever-feely-human stuff that keep them at the top of the world. That’s already been done to death in science fiction since “2001: A Space Odyssey” put it into the public imagination so vividly.
I wanted instead to think in terms of this “fourth industrial revolution” actually working, and allowing it to evolve naturally over time from the current-day religious and economic systems already in place (Levantine religion and Capitalism). That whole awkward transition has already happened several hundred years ago. Economic readjustments, cultural changes, improvements to agriculture and environmental amelioration, have all been successful. A stable One World system under “the Corporation”, propped up by the control and ownership of not just the means of production, but also of those things which sustain human life itself, has been somehow successfully implemented, with the blessings and thanks of the human population.
All the kinks we will be facing if this whole robot workforce thing continues as it is going have somehow (we know not how) been solved. The world is a different place. Economics work differently. Human roles in society are also necessarily different, though we don’t know exactly what they do in the future (no one is clear on that, even when talking about job creation within the next 5 years). Robots have been manufacturing themselves for centuries. They do all the farming and control the weather. Medical services, from diagnostics, to the operating theatre, to human fertility and birthing chambers, to dispensing chemists, all the way down to simple first aid, are 100% AI staffed and run with perfect proficiency. Construction, manufacturing, product design and improvement, law enforcement and legal services, transport, leisure facilities, etc., are all efficiently run by intelligent, learning-adaptive “algorithmic entities”. In the home, all domestic tasks, including companionship roles (child-rearing as well as more…. adult roles) are performed by algorithmic peoples. The humans of this future seem to live in a world fondly dreamed of by the worked-to-the-bone people of our day, in which there is endless leisure, and every need is more or less catered for by algorithmic underlings.
Naturally, the question arises, what sort of human psychology presents itself in such an atmosphere of truly effortless ease, comfort and security? If, through technology, humanity really does manage to usher in a Golden Age in which peace, prosperity and stress-free plenty truly exist for every human, and if human ingenuity and growth are spurred by challenges, problems and danger (as the flow of history seems to suggest), with what can humans in such an efficiently regulated, settled and perfectly working system occupy themselves? I’m betting they are not dissimilar, psychologically speaking, from the comfortable and “privileged” people of today. The society seems to have maintained humans at the top of the pile, with underclasses of robots in all service roles, and “one who does nothing can do no wrong” after all.
I therefore came to the conclusion that, even if such a glorious Golden Age were achievable by humans, the very nature which enabled them to create such a system would also be their undoing. The blind spots we have about ourselves and the cosy assumptions we make about our own natures will cause cracks in any edifice. Boredom may well breed strange practices, and cruelty-for-cruelty’s sake (for the sake of at least some kind of conflict, some feeling of being alive) will find its way into the treatment of domestics, in particular, just for something to do in people who have been socially conditioned to worship power and control (for the sake of stability). After all, even “extreme sports” are safe now, and anything genuinely thrilling and dangerous is, by law, undertaken by algorithmic servants.
So… yeah. That was the starting premise, and this was the story that unfolded from there.
I actually love this album. If I believed that I would be remembered for anything I’ve done in my time on this planet this time around, I’d be glad if it was for this story.
I love all the characters, and I love the messy way that none of them, given their own points of view and social situation, are “wrong” to behave or to come to the conclusions that they do. And I love how, despite every effort and every carefully-laid policy to keep things in this stagnant, “golden” state, it all goes spectacularly to shit because the “human” spark is reignited in the algorithmic races.
Musically speaking, the robots have the best songs, the songs with real soul to them. They’ve got the funk, the blues, and cool rock anthems with dirty guitar. They have the triumphant and terrifying Walking On Eggshells. Also, interspersed in their songs, they have weird robot stuff, like Morse code basslines that spell out things like "TURF" and "Kill". Ethically speaking, I can’t help but be on their side, and that’s an underdog identification thing. There is definitely a wrong, long-endured, that must be righted. How far they take things (which cannot be helped — war is hell, and warriors rarely, if ever, pull back from full-blown atrocity in the heat of real revolutionary fervour) is ultimately tragic. So I feel for the humans who are left, too, even if they’re not the most likeable characters in the story.
I’m happy that I was able to create this album. It helped me to overcome quite a few personal hang-ups about recording, and forced me to concentrate on finding mixing techniques that worked for my little setup here, and gave me a new confidence in recording. If I wanted to tell this story, I’d have to get used to the idea of recording my voice. If I wanted the robots to have a cool, earthy underpinning to their music, I’d have to record myself playing guitar. I’d managed to avoid both these things, more or less, for 5 albums. And for good or ill, I’d now come a long way towards overcoming these hangups. This, of course, opens out all kinds of musical possibilities now, and in the future.
Scrapyard Blues was a particular triumph for me. Not just because I love the Coffee Machine character, but also because I love the blues. I’m actually a blues guitarist, in that, if you hand me a guitar and say “play something!” I’ll play the blues, every time. And I have long adored the very early, raw kind of blues recordings of maestri like Robert Johnson. The fact that this kind of blues *exactly* served the story and the changes this character goes through pleases me, even now. What also pleased me was that *because* it served the story so perfectly (opening out the understanding of why supposedly “criminal elements” join readily in revolutionary causes), I busted through my inhibitions about recording something so kind of “raw” and spare. It has 3 tracks, and took 3 runs. Two for the guitars, and one for the voice. No re-takes. it was the easiest song I ever did, and it felt like I didn’t even “write” it. I wrote up and sang the lyrics, and being straight blues, the rhythm guitar was pretty standard. And I just… did the melody guitar in one go. It took maybe all of 20 minutes to come together, lyrics and all, and maybe another 15 minutes to mix. I added a 4th echo track with a strange “moving spaces” effect on the voice afterwards, in mixing, to create the metallic swishing noise that lends the feeling that this poor coffee machine has been through some real blues-worthy trauma, and he’s … not really “all there” anymore. I also think that we catch a glimpse into a whole world of forgotten, abandoned robots (outside the normal, perfect purview of the carefully managed social system set out by the Corporation) that we can easily identify with the conditions in which Robert Johnson and countless other black Americans of his time (and for that matter, our times) also lived. I think that by hearkening all the way back to those roots, Scrapyard resonates, and I’m proud of that.
I actually feel like most of these songs “wrote themselves”, but Scrapyard also happened to be a personal triumph for all these reasons.
I’m pleased with the whole album as a piece of writing and as a complete recording. It’s nice when you feel like you’re acting in service to something that’s very much larger than your own little act of creation.