Get into that future faster: An interview with Stuart Argabright

Featuring : Black Rain

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Stuart Argabright scans the present for the future, finds some patterns, pulls some rhythms, strings poems with them. You can find those in Ike Yard, Death Comet Crew (feat. the late Rammellzee), Dominatrix and Black Rain.

To celebrate the release of Black Rain’s second Blackest Ever Black output, Dark Pool, we had the honour of interviewing him.

If you are into the future, if you are a cyberpunk, if you like cool set scenes and reality augmentation via strange layers of sound, we think you are going to enjoy this thing.

Get Dark Pool here, and read more about it here.

Dark Pool is inspired by Edge of Human (a sequel to Blade Runner which I haven’t read) and The Wind-up Girl (a biotech dystopia set in a world that ran out of oil). How does this inspiration operate? 

Some context: Over the years since we were in contact with author William Gibson there were many ideas & plans to do movies based on his work.  Johnny Mnemonic was the one that came into being.

I had been working with director Robert Longo as de facto music director. We worked up that one for years as co-deciders , tech consultant , music composers and in near final stage, music editor up in Toronto.

There was a particularly intense stretch of ‘cyber’ projects I set out on with friend & partner William Barg after meeting at The Palladium in 1985.

William was trying to get shows for Survival Research Labs at the time, Japanese anime and CG was booming, the tech moving daily.

For some time, there was going to be Gibson story ideas project with Russian director Rashid Nugmanoff that involved author Jack Womack (Ambient and many other greats ) writing it. For this the Black rain four-piece concocted music such as Nuclear Village and got the director and Jack down to CBGB’s for a look / listen.

Since 1984 there had been a few directors wanting to do Neuromancer and in the moment we did meetings with the first team a.k.a The Cabana Boys and later we consulted with Director Chuck Russell.

We developed a nice sized film project to be directed by Sogo Ishii (Halber Mensch, Sogo’s Einstürzende Neubauten docu-fantasy, Crazy Family) as written by Gibson and to be co produced by us and the Japanese side.

My wife Noyuri had a chance meeting with Sogo after a screening in Tokyo and we ended up meeting the next year in Tokyo. We had a good idea and ran with it to the point we met with producer Ed Pressman at the Imperial Hotel.

And by 1995, after the NY screening of “JM” (as the Japanese cut of Johnny Mnemonic with our remaining track included was called), William, Jack and I shuffled down the street and I thought “We can make another, better movie”.

That would have been an anime with one of the Akira animators.  Never got past idea stage, some parties were willing, one agent in Tokyo was not!

Sometimes the best projects just don’t come together.  But you want to try.

[NB here you have more info about Black Rain’s “lost” cyberpunk soundtracks]

Black Rain – Lo Tek Bridge

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In 1996 while working in LA at a game developer’s house i was able to meet Blade Runner Two author KW Jeter at a signing and stayed in touch. KW has written many great ones from the classic Dr. Adder to Farewell Horizontal and also did many novelizations. The ideas presented in “Two” conflate the original book by PK Dick and movie version and do it well.

With slim chance of making an actual movie of the piece , I kept eye out for ways to bring the work out to that BladeRunner loving crowd.

Preparing for Black rain Europe tour fall 2012  I was after a suitable read for the 2 months out and The The Windup Girl was just right.   Discovery, digestion, projection and execution over the course of many pages & 20 cities.

How does the music in Dark Pool relate to these sci-fi books? Is it inspired by specific scenes, the characters’ mind states, the worlds represented in the books, something else?) 

All of the above. Having scanned, grazed or absorbed so many science & tech projects, news, imaginings over the years I still want to get there into that future faster.

In process of arranging the Dark Pool pieces as logically linked scenarios, the post humans of Bladerunner Two and Windup Girl  were calling loudly.

I had stated online we were setting about to make an Album of Sci-fi / Sci-fact  that would be ‘ better then”Elysium” or  “Oblivion.” By that I simply meant more imagination and hopefully better realised then those $75 to $100 million entertainments. Even as audio only.

On the album we have the opening Dark Pool with Sean Young – Ms. Rachel Tyrell, the replicant herself, checking off tech Tyrell might be looking into. By the time the album reaches Profusion II one hears the implosion- explosion and collapse of the Tyrell Pyramids, just as in Jeter’s fine novelization.

In between there is a quick sketch representation of what it might feel like to be a New Person out exposed on the street North of Bangkok in New Chiang Saen. Thai opening, thin crowd at twilight, old neon signage.

We didn’t want to go any deeper then that for this record.

And are happy the author likes it too!

In the Windup Girl (by Paolo Bacigalupi) the reader gets into the mind of Emiko , a New Person construct made in Japan, later abandoned by her owner in 23rd century Bangkok.

We all know well the immortal lines in Bladerunner the movie, we do not know the interior thoughts of artificial people as well… I wanted to work on that. We may be meeting them soon enough : )

The way you describe the music makes it sound almost like a virtual reality for these post-human characters – and by proxy, ourselves as listeners.

There are two aspects to this which I found very interesting. (a) there is the future external setting and landscape, and (b) there is the way the characters themselves perceive and interact with that environment. Could you describe the process you follow to go from the idea of a scene to its music?

For example on Xibalba Road Metamorph once I pulled the first and second parts of the title from the Black Rain word pool, matched and sequenced them the character and it’s environment began to come clear. Made a drawing of the long road curving left from the horizon.

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Filled in power points or transmitter wires along on edge of the road – this is where the stalking birds take up post, talk amongst themselves when they spy something coming from a good distance off.

What tried to pass there?  Black brown, humanoid in shape is wandering between corporate Compound where it was born and the surrounding open, low stubbled fields.

What did it leave behind?  A pair of bloodied lab technicians caught in mid reach near the KILL button’ shroom? A hole gnawed in the outer fence, friends and allies made the hard way upslope from the watering hole.

What does metamorph sound like?   We hear it as the track begins – this one is female, the first cry blast is of dismay.

Where to go next – which way? I can’t go any faster then this… the metalized terror birds are squawking so loud can barely think.

They will wake everything up. The sun is coming up now…  got to move.

The second time we hear her – mid track – she has tripped some light beam, particle weapon or a single , stealthy helicopter has taken to the air far behind her.

So … once key pieces are together, scenario, title, characters situation all flow directly.

Black Rain- Xibalba Road Metamorph

For Watering hole I am imagining a free – for – all zone where bioengineered creatures come to drink. The corp cannot simply set up a row of troughs for these manufactured beings and expect them to get in line quietly.

Sonically I locate the waterline, zone of buff, battered dirt-like recycle surrounding the ‘water’, how far back is the treeline.

And beyond that what? Fake or real sun…

I can make out a tempo for the piece, fingers on table surface.

Regarding the perceptual and sense-making aspects of post-humans/new persons, these would be different from our own. Do you consider explicitly how as you create Dark Pool, and if so, how does this impact on its sounds, filtered as it were, by this post-human sensibility? 

Yes, sometimes. Time is one constraint :)

Xibalba Road – the Black Road – suggested a high-heat shimmery surface, fumes hanging close.

And seen through sensor slitted ‘eyes’. Not sure what is really out there. What we are seeing until she calls – barks suddenly so close.

Night in Chiang Saen opens with gong hits inside Thai temple. People file back and forth, footsteps of a child flip fop past.

Humans. New People with bad experiences with humans can begin to sweat when there are too many around.

In a remix, I would make more of the heat shiver of the initial beat stirring, make it all shedding heat like you get North of Thailand.

The music is the street one then walks through the night slum. A piece of riphop from inside a Jeep by. Startled squeak as you turn a corner.

These below the surface impressions were part of what made this a satisfying album to string together. Working w new engineer, recorder and co producer Oliver Chapoy allowed me to focus on getting details correct.

Not every piece got or deserves the minutest detailing, in the end we got to all that called loudest.

The futures represented in Johnny Mnemonic, Blade Runner and The Wind-Up Girl are mixed up. In macro terms, they are dystopias: societal collapse, environmental disaster, human suffering. But they are also awesome, exciting, full of weird beauty. It is scary, but I want to go there. I think this is really captured in your music for those futures. 

What is your position on the societal implications of the technological developments (biotech, cybernetics, robotics, virtual reality etc.) coming our way? 

Industries like tobacco, Coke, Pepsi have gotten rich selling us things that are have never been good for us. Banks, guns First Amendment nuts & NRA, Governments intel gathering since 9/11 and the industrial defense complex business have all gone too far. Now it seems there is always another sector getting disrupted.

As we seem to move faster towards 24 hour globalization we see how it cuts both ways.

Genetics . Biological. Science Fact & Fiction.

Bruce Sterling had the idea of humans evolving – or being made to evolve one or two ways:

Towards a Shaper mentality and persona  using brainwave & biological systems upgrades.

Alternately expressing themselves as more Mechanist, perhaps choosing to replace a limb with a new prosthetic model one at a time.

Somewhere in between we had the kids with microchip plug ins behind an ear in order to learn a new language or operate a Black Ops helicopter as we saw in Gibson’s Neuromancer

Continually advancing robotics should give us in – home help for when you are old and by yourself (maybe a little pleasure too)

The downside for home care workers is that robots move into some jobs humans used to do.

VR immersion into worlds so good you don’t ever come out? we may have to go through that neomania to see what possible lifestyles, directions come of it.

Is dystopia inevitable?  

Well, we could be in a delicate and dangerous period or sequence, with some real downers ahead . For one, systems are beyond breaking point in many areas.

And we keep seeming to set ourselves up to be clever. At some point we will get bit. We could be only 2- 3 – 4 disasters away from mega series at near any time these days. Let’s look at the what we have…

The planet’s tectonic plates seem to be more active; Pacific Ring of Fire having quakes off Alaska, SF, West Coast US  down to South America, across to Japan on back to N America again. We know now that events that have happened once or more then once over history – have a good chance of  coming again in cycles or waves .  There are climate changes to factor in as across the planet different regions will be seeing different effects.

Historically are we at another post Cold War  “End Of History” global recombination?

Politically we are into another phase, with possibilities of movement apart (say Russia and EU / US) and same time movement of things converging together  – or converging apart in the case of the Euro ?

Can we rein in the negative aspects of these technologies? Is that a naïve/anachronistic way of thinking about them? 

Humans keep pushing limits. There are many more of us now. Think about the next say, decade- how many more?

For all the new science and tech that follows patents,  we have seen again and again – thinking of the US’s making and supplying weapons – the war tech always comes back to bite us again .

Same time, some of the same organisations made early moves towards the Internet and the still unknowable future that has co spawned.

Whether we will poison or somehow nuke ourselves before the water runs out we just have to see.

[/ENDS]

And here are a few forthcoming Black Rain European Dates in the coming weeks. Don’t miss out.

  • Nov.10 Brussels @ Bozar w Fennesz, Helena Hauf, Ninos Du Brasil, Shxcxcxcxsh: Info
  • Nov. 15 Berlin BEB night : with Cut Hands , RAIME DJs,  Nina,  Diat: Info
  • Nov. 21 Hamburg Golden Pudel: Info
  • Nov. 23 Moscow  : w Clock DVA, Ben Frost: Info
  • Nov. 28 Stockholm +++ TBA
  • Nov. 29 Paris :  w Orphan Swords: Info
  • Dec.6 LA Mount Analog Nuit Noire w : Silent Servant , Ancient Methods, Marshstepper, Henning Baer + dvs -1