This post is dedicated to our friend Matt.
We have long known that good science fiction isn’t really about the future but about the present. Contemporary situations, concerns and trajectories of development are stretched to fit an altered framework, and from this strange viewpoint, we reach new insights. This means that good science fiction isn’t prediction, but a reflection about today’s zeitgeist and the qualities of the new world encoded in it. Also architecture fiction, a usability test of potential realities that may help us make decisions today – is that the kind of world we want to live in – or that – and what do we do about it?
We have the temptation to interpret electronic music like the musical equivalent of that conventional notion of science-fiction as future gazing – a purveyor of soundtracks for the days to come: the frantic street-hustling of new wave cyberpunks, martial communions atop techno obelisks, or the wide-eyed exploration of alien galaxies.
But of course, it is not that, or it is that, but it not really about that. Electronic music is just a mode of expression that humans adopt when electronic technologies become available to them, because it is in the nature of humans to express themselves through whichever media exist – as if their spirit, infected by the will to communicate, was an irrepressible fluid forever looking for vessels to contain and transmit it, all of which are of course, smidgens for immortality – every song a singularity. And what glorious diversity this yields, but also what recurrence of themes and moods, a source of great joy in its revelation of spiritual commonalities across the spaces and times that mankind inhabits.
Look at Mammani Sani et son Orgue, an avant-garde musician from Niger whose minimal electronic composition channel a millennial tradition of Saharan song-writing into tone poems wonderful like Kraftwerk’s infrastructural hymns. This is motorik music for spaces without straight lines, lands where all roads are built by the wind
He first picked up his organ in 1974, when Kraftwerk released Autobahn, and he recorded his only album, ‘La Musique Electronique du Niger’, in 1978, the same year as the Man Machine. We hear his compositions filled the Saharan airwaves, evolved into radio broadcasting drones and soundtracks for TV intermissions.
The romantic in 2JFG imagines for a moment that one night, as they sped down the Westphalian motorway, our favourite man-droids were reached by radio waves supernaturally amplified, over the Sahara and the Mediterranean, by the sheer gorgeousness of their content and their need to be heard by kindred spirits. But the truth is simpler, and more beautiful. Mammani Sani et Son Orgue and Kraftwerk converge in the human (and reflect the human’s wonder, exhilaration – and sadness – as he gets on the road, leaving home behind), because they start in the same place, in the human.
And that connection across spaces suggests continuity over time, a sharing that gives us hope and consolation in the face of strife, suffering and transience.