In 2018 “The Future of Humanity”, a New York Times Bestseller by Michio Kaku, offered a stunning vision of man’s future in space, from settling Mars to travelling to distant galaxies. Two short years later, an unseen mass killer stalks this very humanity. It would seem anything we considered reality, is quickly replaced by an alternating reality. Where are we going to as a race? We seem to have always wavered on a zigzag, not a progressive evolutionary path.
Interesting that The University of Oxford has an Institute dedicated to the Future of Humanity, it works on ‘big picture’ questions for human civilisation and explores what can be done now to ensure a long-term future. Just to give one example of their multi-disciplinary studies, a paper submitted at the end of 2005, concluded (with the mathematics to prove it) planet earth was unlikely to be annihilated by a Doomsday-type scenario in the succeeding 10 years, caused by exogenous events. As a corollary of that reassurance, should we not be looking internally to locate the seeds of our destruction?
In 2016, Scientific American made its own list of 20 Big Questions About the Future of Humanity. Most projections about the future, (from Doctor Who on), centre on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, overtaking by artificial intelligence and even, the possible redundancy of sexual relations. Sandwiched in between there are some more practical areas of research; will the entire world one day have adequate health care? Can we avoid a “sixth extinction”? The latter can only be narrowly avoided if we take quick action to halt species extinction caused by lack of habitat, according to Edward O. Wilson, Professor emeritus at Harvard University. In his book “Half-Earth”, he has stressed the necessity of creating a ‘global reserve’ occupying half the land and half the sea, and he also outlines how this can be achieved. Apparently, he maintains there are at least five times as many species known on the earth currently that need to be found and classified.
Of course, the chief driver is not protection, but profit, and two years ago the Forbes global media company (for the world’s billionaires) predicted that:
“Companies today are strategizing about future investments and technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, or growth around new business models. While many of these trends will make for solid investments for the next 5-10 years, fewer companies are considering the revolutionary convergence of disparate trends pulled from technology, behavioural and societal changes, and medical advances to understand how they will converge to transform society. This transformation will be messy, complex, and sometimes scary, but signals already point to a future of humanity that will blur our identities into “transhumanism.”
Transhumanism and The Future of Humanity?
Transhumanist thesis considers whether human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into different entities with abilities so greatly expanded from the current condition as to merit the label of ‘posthuman’ beings.
It seems illogical given we have not majored on what it means to be human in the first place. In this new existence would we no longer need music? Can humans even exist without music? The results of our transformation could make us so self-reliant as to never need songs, tunes, rock, roll, jazz, hymns, boogie or woogie, country/western. No symphonies. No singing in the shower. No whistling Dixie. No ‘our tunes’.
As pivotal as we have elevated the place of music in our lives, during this first lockdown, it seems fair to pose is it because it swims contrary to the current tidal pressure to turn us into something less than human? With that in mind, what are the makers of the artform seeking to communicate to us in this droid futurism?
Quite a lot actually…
Neil Young ‘Homegrown’
Twelve songs by a music giant that do exactly whatever it says on the Blues Rock tin, a mixture of new and classic tunes (‘Love Is A Rose’, ‘Star of Bethlehem’). It is a steadying thing that Neil Young is still in the world and still the same. ‘Homegrown’ reached number two in the album charts (26/06/20) and was pipped only by his elder, Bob Dylan. Two legends both doing what they started out doing, only fifty years later. Maybe it engenders the hope that although were entering a ‘new reality’ there might be a trail of riffs back to some valued resonance with the past. And when he blazes a distorted harp in the diminutive ‘Little Wing’ (not the one we all know) and lilts “the winter is the best time of them all”, there is no reason to doubt it.
There have been comings and goings though and love is the portal, but that is subjectively perceived by everyone. ‘Mexico’ is a lovely ballad of fleeing both time and place and “to live beyond the fears and move on through the years”. ‘Florida’ is a little oddity, a venture into spoken word in which he relates a story that tells a tragic tale but stops short of an explanation.
Lara Marling ‘Song for Our Daughter’
The main constituent of future uncertainty is concern for those still young. One would be forgiven for thinking ‘Song For Our Daughter’ is an album of songs dedicated to this anxiety. Instead it is more of an album about being that Daughter, the earlier link in the chain, ‘middle generations also matter’. In fact, the singer’s seventh album was released ahead of schedule in the hope it could be “some small entertainment to people” during the coronavirus lockdown.
Three years ago, Marling walked out on music, rather like the woman, (as she explained in a cryptic reference to Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House), who walks out on her husband and children in an effort to ‘discover’ herself. Her playing style is every bit stripped back, probably to honour this ‘phased return’ but seamlessly clothed in high quality production, nonetheless.
Like Young, this is an album of ‘comings and goings’ Marling returns to the subject of departing lovers on the track ‘Fortune’, a deceptively pretty ballad where a woman ends her marriage with quiet devastation. But there is the suggestion what the woman leaves, she never fully leaves behind.
‘Alexandra’, the opening track is a response toLeonard Cohen’s ‘Alexandra Leaving’from ‘Ten New Songs’ that wonders where Cohen’s lover went after she left and moreover what did she know? “What became of Alexandra? Did she make it through? What kind of woman gets to love you?” The melody itself is almost a reversal of Cohen’s phrasing and the male version of events.
Brian Eno ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’
On admittance, I scanned the modern-day classical music releases, hoping to have a counterpoint in genre, or at least the ambient sector, to see how they would colour listening in lockdown.
Instead, I went in reverse to 1978, and for original ambient instrumental record by Eno, ‘Music for Airports.’ Waiting in airports was a thing pre-March, and now flight delays and nights in airports would be relished in a way they never were.
The sort of random, reluctant finding of notes and the time spanning in between them will maybe chill any periods of ‘frenactivity’ brought on by the extra considerations brought on by the extra considerations due to COVID 19.
The album is only broken into four ‘tracks’ named 1/1, 2/1, 1/2, and 2/2, a palindromic sequence. Perhaps allegories to the notion the end is rather like the beginning, you arrive outside of your will, you harmonise or not, with the intervening digits, and you leave again, still not really sure where you are bound for – akin to taking a flight, the flight is life.
The journey’s first step can be just coming to terms with the journey, the discomfort, the cramping, the displacement, the icy draught…there is an interesting voiceover the last track, given current world political stage.
Gerry Cinnamon ‘The Bonny’
TheBonnyis the second studioalbumby the Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Cinnamon, (real name Gerard Crosbie), follow up to Erratic Cinematic. The most striking thing about this artist is not so much his fantastic writing and playing, but his meteoric rise to a Scottish national treasure and folk hero. He started by playing an open mic night in a bar on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow that gave him an opportunity to perform his own songs, and the event became increasingly popular. In three years to July 2017, Cinnamon appeared on the King Tut’s stage at the TRNSMT festival (replacement for T in the Park) on Glasgow Green, again playing to a sizeable and enthusiastic crowd and by September releasing his debut album. ‘Bonny’ of course means pretty or attractive or from the French, good. He advocates for the modern issues affecting his homeland, the ‘Bonny’, internal and external, chasing chemitrails, two weeks in the sun, (otherwise) nasty weather and consequent year round pent up emotion. There is still time to build the Bonny. He seems to have naturally won and maintained a diehard fanbase for his lyrical sentiments.
The first song I listened to was ‘War Song Soldier’, unpretentiousness in style emitting stark emotion lamenting the past, splintering towards the future. What is missing is not the poverty, but the post war sense of community and belonging (all videos for The Bonny are shot in black and white). Maybe the other difference between then and now was the optimism ingredient was present as a sense, or at least an option.
The follow up airplay spin was of course the lead track of this album, ‘Canter’. It (Life) could be a canter, if we were not our own worst enemies, punishing ourselves with our negative emotions (a paraphrase on some choice song lyrics!). “And the hardest part of the game isn’t playing the game, it’s caring enough to care about playing the game.”
Although every possible feeling known to man is represented on this recording, ‘Where We’re Going’ is a sweet tale of love’s (partial) rescue and time slipping by.
Hayley Williams ‘Petals for Armor’
This is a likeable album on first meet. Even the title is a development of the band she used to front and so Williams’ debut solo album has left behind the angst-ridden teenage years and turned way past 21.
The story of all our lockdown offerings so far is ‘stripped back style makes good in leaner times.’
These ten songs are heavily ‘bassy’ in sound, with the lyrics out front. However, the powerful vocals sometimes come in waves, and are sometimes used in effect as added levels. The washing in, washing out of androgynous emotions seem to pine for a pearl of truth. Case in point, the subject of a song like ‘Pure’, surrounded as it is with a gelatinous mass of excess, sometimes grown for protection, mostly to obscure.
The opening track ‘Simmer’ is an instantaneous anthem. Control, “there are so many ways to give in…….Simmer, simmer, simmer, simmer down.”
Lyrically, the content is fresh and new, in ‘Leave It Alone’ – “Now that I want to live, the Ones I love are dying.” ‘Dead Horse’ is full of quirks, flipping off ‘depression’ and the classic line “sometimes it’s good to be the bigger person, but I’m so small I can’t compare”. It more than adequately portrays the emotions involved around wasting energy and time in a dead-end relationship, about as effective in life as a ‘record that skips’ or replacing song words with ‘yayas’.
Field Music ‘Making A New World’
The title alone would suggest this is the most pointed empirical evidence to evaluate latter times. Dystopian reality is a term that has been bandied around since the start of lockdown. It seems to explain a lot when we do not understand the world and our continuance in it. Basically, it relates to a society that has become bereft of reason.
‘Making A New World’ is composed of 19 songs but they together take up only 42 min 30 sec. This could suggest it does not take as long to change the world as people previously thought; and the past three months attest that is true. A more rational explanation is that the songs that I listened to start off with the expectation that they are going to be long, but come to very abrupt ends, mid-song in some places.
This is, at last the soundtrack to transhumanism. There are quick changes of pace and emotion, like recent events, the sense that the sound is slipping away, eluding the listener. In ‘Sound Ranging’ there is little instrumental control, no such thing as melody. This is ‘robotical’ music, like Eno in some ways, but without celebration and without the luxury of time. ‘Silence’, the second track in, is reminiscent in an ‘Atoms for Peace’ way, when it speaks “ship myself home” of secluded individualism. Fragmentation is the only way to survive, the very opposite of social living. ‘Coffee or Wine’ is the currency to move through this isolation, depending on the time of day.
It could be said of this album the machines oversaw the music, and not the other way around.
To conclude, there are new modes of interaction being grafted onto strong rootstock (Dylan, Young, Eno). There is a new EI (Emotional Intelligence) a new way of dialoguing and an attack on cliché, new nuances, new requirements. And an ‘All Change’ environment.