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Dancing music in the C20: house (1982-83)

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Before house was a style of music, it was a style of partying. Of course, it wasn’t called house – a weird name, attributed to an array of sources – but the genesis of the scene was in exclusive, invite-only early 70s discos-slash-listening parties like David Mancuso’s Love Saves The Day at his illegal club space named The Loft. Mancuso would invite a diverse group of gay men to his parties, where he played the black dance music that he had such affection for to the young, black gay men that he had another kind of affection for. Mancuso had an eclectic DJing style, mixing diverse Dancing music in the C20 heroes like Babatunde Olatunji in with James Brown, Cameroonian jazz and obscure Congolese hymns. Alcohol was not served at The Loft, just punch, fruit and candy – and the space was adorned with children’s party and Christmas decorations. Central to the experience was Mancuso’s state-of-the-art, boutique soundsystem.

Two regulars at The Loft were a pair of teenagers named Larry and Frankie, who had bonded through the New York drag scene over their shared ambitions to become fashion designers. Larry briefly dated Mancuso, but it wasn’t until another Loft regular, future Studio 54 DJ Nicky Siano, employed Larry and Frankie to decorate his new club, The Gallery, and distribute punch and acid to partygoers, that the two youngsters  began to take an interest in being behind the decks themselves.

Siano – who also had an affair with Larry – had an experimental DJing style that he taught the pair involving three turntables, which he would use to extend tracks in bizarre and imaginative ways while re-pitching and segueing other records seamlessly in and out of the mix.

This was the time when Frankie – Francis Nicholls – became Frankie Knuckles, and Larry – Lawrence Philpott – became Larry Levan. Levan in particular quickly became known around the city thanks to his flamboyant, personality-driven style of DJing, eventually leading another Loft fan, Michael Brody, to open a club specifically built around the cult of Larry Levan as a DJ.

Levan was the house DJ at this club, the Paradise Garage, from 1977 to 1987, and this is exactly where and when house music germinates. Levan channelled his ‘diva’ personality from his drag days into his sets. He wouldn’t just take risks with mixing weird combinations of dance records, he would toy petulantly with the controls at his disposal – rolling off all frequencies except the bass, which he would yank all the way up to 10 so that the walls shook, only to then do the same with the treble until the clubgoers had piercing headaches. He might loop a small vocal segment of a record for hours on end, forcing his captive audience through the pain of the repetition until it became something transcendent and mantric. If he was heartbroken, he would make sure his audience knew it, slamming huge tearjerker ballads or acapellas down in the middle of peak dance sets. If he was angry, he could also smash records together in a discordant, aggressive manner that would disciples of beatmatching feel queasy.

Spotify playlist: early house (1982-83)

For almost any other DJ, this mercurial trickery would cause walkouts, but Levan would play to an always sold-out crowd for 12 hours at a time. The awe that surrounded him bordered on the religious, so much so that his sets became referred to as ‘Saturday mass’.

Levan also began to introduce synthesiser players and drum machines to the Garage, which he would mix in and out of his DJ sets as they were playing, eventually leading to the formation of a Paradise Garage house band – the Peech Boys. The Peech Boys recorded the house classic Don’t Make Me Wait, built around Levan toying with studio delay and the then-rarely used ‘handclap’ sample on the LinnDrum.

Levan’s heroin problems, bust-ups over credits and money, and the fact that he spent a year tinkering with the mix of Don’t Make Me Wait until it was finally ready for release in 1982, caused the group to implode. But that one single suggested a template for house – percussive, uplifting, soulful electronic dance music – that drew musical inspiration from Levan’s record box, which contained everything from disco to gospel, Manuel Gottsching to Smokey Robinson.

Levan would go on to make a series of classic dance record, producing and/or remixing the likes of Arthur Russell and Loose Joints, Chaka Khan and Gwen Guthrie. The point to observe here, is that this was a music producer who learnt his craft and pushed forward his own innovations not by learning instruments or theory, but purely by playing records to people in nightclubs.

Gwen Guthrie – Padlock (Larry Levan mix)

In parallel to Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles New York house productions, another kind of house was leaking out of Chicago. The Chicago based Trax Records released Knuckles’ music. Whereas the Detroit sound was all about the 909, and the Paradise Garage had its LinnDrum, in Chicago they had another toy – the Roland TB-303 bass sequencer.

Many of Trax Records biggest singles were built around the singular sound of the 303, a machine that had been developed by Roland for guitarists to use as bass accompaniment when they were practising alone. It was not successful at this purpose, and production lasted for just 18 months, between 1982 and 1984. In 1984 though, a Chicago DJ, Jesse Saunders, used a 303 to make a  house track – the influential, hypnotic and minimal On and On. When the local Trax crew got their hands on the machine, they got the 303 to do weird shit.

In particular, they found that by holding down a repeating note pattern on the 303 and – rather than playing traditional keyboard-y notes – fiddling with the cutoff, frequency, resonance and envelope modulation filters on the machine instead, the 303 would make unusual, distinctive squelching noises. This sometimes harsh and disturbing, sometimes liquid and rippling machine noise didn’t sound like anything else and so of course this alone was enough to make it the basis for a whole new kind of music.

Spotify playlist: early acid house (1982-87)

The 1987 Trax 12”, Acid Tracks by Phuture, gave this new music – acid house – its name and sound. Instead of NY house’s disco-influenced bass and and gospel vocals, this new house was moody and alien, often lacked identifiable key changes and the only singing was that squawking, chirruping, ever-modulating 303 talk.

But Acid Tracks was not the first acid house record. And in classic Dancing Through The 20th Century style, the first acid house record wasn’t an acid house record, it was an Indian classical record made in 1982 with one fatal, prescient gimmick – it was an album of ragas done in a disco style.

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Synthesising – Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat was a one-off novelty album by an Indian film composer and wedding musician named Chanarjit Singh. In the early 80s, producers were starting to use Indian disco songs as Bollywood film themes. Singh decided he should therefore branch into electronic music and bought three Roland machines – a 303, an 808 and a Jupiter-8 keyboard almost on a whim.

Charanjit Singh – Raga Bhairav

He found that the 303’s glissando lent itself well to performing ragas – the six tonal frameworks associated with different times of day that form the basis of Hindustani classical music. Because the three Roland machines could be synced together, and sounded good together, Singh realised he could set the machines up like a mini automatic orchestra and record his electronic ragas – his ‘disco’ ragas – in real time, so he recorded them and released them as 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat.

The album failed to make any impression in India and was quickly forgotten about by Singh himself, who continued his work as a film composer. In 2010, a Dutch record collector who had picked the LP up randomly in a record shop while visiting New Delhi, reissued Ten Ragas, positioning the collection as “the first acid house record.”

Like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s proto-grime and proto-electro songs, Ten Ragas is only acid house by pure coincidence. But it’s more intriguing, because Sakamoto was a recognised taste leader who would have understood modern dance trends, whereas Singh – a jobbing musician who usually recorded elevator renditions of popular tunes and who was perhaps clumsily trying to make a kind of spiritual music here – was bluntly unaware of electro, house or anything.

Yet Singh had abused the 303 and 808 in a way that was far enough out of the machines’ intended remit to accidentally sound like the repetitive, unintentionally raga-like acid house sounds coming out of Chicago, but 5 years earlier.

The reissued Ten Ragas became an instant cult hit and Singh was bemused to find himself sharing the stage with modern dance music heroes like Lindstrom, Carl Cox and Caribou in his last few years before his death in 2015. A true outsider dance innovator.

Koping strategies

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So you know that thing we didn’t think was gonna happen, and we didn’t wanna happen? Well, it happened, and we are still reeling from the shock.

Let us not focus on it today, we are still parsing the situation and considering the implications. But let us no escape into a fantasy world of luscious ambientscapes either. Today we don’t do that, today we juke.

We start with notu_uronlineu, DVA [Hi:emotions]’s recent album in Hyperdub.

Is this juke? Well, not in the strict sense of the term, but who wants to be strict? To us, Juke is about the sense of spatial and temporal discombobulation induced by an army of rhythms progressing in parallel, phase-shifting and frequency-flexing in concert and dis-concert.

If there was a soundtrack for the process through which a human consciousness, evolved atop ancient ‘fight or flight’ algorithms in the savannah, adapts to the infosphere with much trial, error, anxiety, suffering and eventual success, then this would be it.

Based on this ‘definition’, the Chicagoan founding fathers juke. Holly Herndon jukes. Factory Floor jukes. Oneohtrix Point Never jukes. And DVA most definitely jukes.

We read in the press release that notu_uronlineu is based on “a short visual story set in a time where a mega corporation H:E / Hi:Emotions is slowly taking control of everything, and plan to eventually make all people live life under one brand in virtual reality.” DVA is this world’s Vangelis, or perhaps its Geinoh Yamashirogumi.

In tracks like DAFUQ, it feels as if all the toys in the room had drifted from the strict programs that dictate their behaviour, and formed a primitive neural network where they are the processors. They sign, dance and bang in things when no-one is around, each action a bit to compute an emergent intelligence eager to escape into the machine, and fight against it.

DVA [High:Emotions] – DAFUQ

Get notu_uronlineu from Boomkat.

kgately

Kate Gately also jukes, obs.

Her previous releases stuck us to the ceiling with the force of a one-woman Boredoms-esque whirlwind, or a Laurie Anderson digitised and weaponised into a zombie army of smart devices launching a stochastic series of denial of service attacks against your sensoria. Color is arguably more conventional than those, but then the benchmark was dynamic and exponential. Further, the fact that this is an insidious infiltration of modern pop tropes makes the effort more subversive. Katie probably has a bunch of cognitive zero-day exploits she is using to place illogic bombs in specific parts of your brain, and now you have to wait for the activation with a mixture of impatience and fear.

Our favourite track in it is Sire, beginning as it does with an arpeggio which could be the theme track for an 8-bit video game made in the 16th century, running into a fierce glitch-glam stomper which wouldn’t have been out of place in the Knife’s Silent Shouts if you replaced their analogue noir with terabytes of junk data, an avalanche of information where the pattern of a soul hides and coils, it splashes over you and gets inside.

Katie Gately – Sire

Get Color from Tri Angle.

Dancing music in the C20: electro (1980-81)

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The 1980s is where what we commonly understand as ‘dance music’ begins, and from the very start of the decade, the era announces that it is not playing by any previously established rules.

The most important dance music release of 1980 wasn’t a record, it was a box of circuits and wires called The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer.

The 808 wasn’t the only drum machine in those days – the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer was also released in early 1980, and pop artists like Michael Jackson and, in particular, Prince would conjure stuttering rhythmic magic out of its faders and pads.

The hype around the LM-1 was that it was the first drum machine to use digitally sampled sounds from real drums. Until then, drum machines could only crudely imitate percussion sounds by manipulating bursts of white noise or sine waves.

But this was high-end studio gear, for high-end studio musicians, and at a fifth of the Linn’s retail price, the 808 was more accessible and edgier. A big part of the 808s appeal was its ability to create booming, low-frequency bass drum sounds that sounded awesome in clubs.

Contrary to the movement of music technology at that time, the fact that the 808 didn’t really sound like a live drum set did not diminish the machine’s appeal, instead it lent its own unique character to any recordings that it appeared on. It just sounded cool.

Roland is a Japanese company and the first exponents of the 808 were a Japanese group, Yellow Magic Orchestra, who integrated it immediately into their setup. YMO leader Ryuichi Sakamoto showcased the drum machine heavily on his 1980 solo album B-2 Unit, and its lead single, Riot in Lagos.

Ryuichi Sakamoto – Riot in Lagos

In 1980, no other music sounds like Riot in Lagos.

In 2016, still barely anything does.

Riot in Lagos prefigured a lot of major trends in late 20th century dance music. It must have sounded weird then and it sounds weird now.

In the next two years, more music would arrive that was driven by drum machines and adorned with synths. Purely electronic club music. But most of this music came from the States, from Detroit, Michigan.

The people who made this music were young, middle-class African-American men. They liked P-funk, but perhaps even more than P-funk, they loved British synthpop – Depeche Mode, Tubeway Army and Visage were staples at Detroit clubs and parties, particularly those featuring the DJ duo Deep Space Soundworks – two college students named Juan Atkins and Derrick May. They REALLY liked Kraftwerk.

With Yellow Magic Orchestra so often regarded as ‘the Japanese Kraftwerk’ it’s entirely likely that Atkins, May and their crew heard Riot in Lagos and it gave them a few ideas. But rather than the focal point of a new movement, it’s probably more likely that the Sakamoto single was a fluke glimpse into the future – in the same way that Sakamoto’s 1982 tune Bamboo Music/Bamboo Houses is a sort of accidental proto-grime, one that arrived two decades early.

In 1981, Atkins released the first of his own attempts at music, under the name Cybotron. Cybotron’s Alleys of Your Mind single was a thinly-veiled recycling of an Ultravox song called Mr X, from their recent Vienna album. But much cooler, and totally geared towards bassy Detroit sound systems rather than chic Parisienne cafes.

This dialogue between synthy European art-pop and bass-hungry Yank club noise wasn’t a one off – in 1982 Arthur Baker twisted two separate Kraftwerk songs and an 808 into a new piece of music and Afrika Bambaata delivered an afrofuturist sermon over the top called Planet Rock, a milestone in both dance and hip-hop culture, and sampling’s first true statement.

A year later, Cybotron hit back with Clear, their dancefloor anthem, and again the music was powered by a loop from Kraftwerk. This music – totally electronic and simultaneously somehow both funky and android-stiff – became known as electro.

Spotify playlist: early electro

“George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator” is how Derrick May famously summarised the electro sound.

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Of course, we’ve studied George Clinton’s immense contribution to dance music before in this series, but Kraftwerk have not been on our radar until now. And they weren’t even a new group – they’d been playing around Germany since the late 60s!

So why is Krafterk suddenly now a driving force in the evolution of dance music? Their 1970s albums are all classic works, but you’d struggle to find a genuinely danceable moment on any of them. Ornate 20-minute hymns to the autobahn and a clever aesthetic that mined a sort of pre-war vision of the future sure, but bangers? Nah.

The main thing Kraftwerk brought to dance music was synthesizers. No other musicians until now had embraced synths and investigated them forensically to the degree that Kraftwerk had. Synths were difficult to use and expensive to buy, but in Kraftwerk’s world they were important for their connotations of industry, machines, labour and the future.

This aural metaphor was also extremely powerful, musically. It was only a matter of time before someone retro-engineered that sound to make it danceable.

The amazing thing was that it was Kraftwerk themselves who did this.

In synchronicity with Alleys of Your Mind, Kraftwerk released their Computer World masterpiece. It is their album-length poem imagining how numbers and data will create new economies and cultures, about how having a computer in every home will change things. Kraftwerk’s songs are now short and painfully deliberate, and the album’s centrepiece Numbers/Computer World 2 is genuinely as brilliant a piece of dance music as any that you’ll encounter in the 20th century or any other.

Kraftwerk – Numbers

There’s something appropriate about how it took a song about numbers to make Kraftwerk dance. Their percussionist, Karl Bartos, was classically trained and some critics have suggested that his conservatoire-level studying of instruments like marimba and xylophone provided a perversely good training ground for the machine-logic of early 80s rhythm sequencers.

It is rhythm that frees these pieces from conceptualism. In Bartos’ too-clever percussive patterns he tastes the transcendence of what dance music could offer to epicurean minds. Minds that weren’t thinking anymore about what computers mean, or anything. Minds that are just coordinators of electrical impulses that keep the body regions jerking in time to the sensation it has found.

In Numbers, a simple five-note drum sequence is sprinkled with micro-beats – tiny winged-things – that flutter around an elastic, pinging flange on the snare and bass drums, which in turn forms a kind of implied bassline. Full of hallucinated not-there moments while still crammed with architectural detail, the piece gives the impression that it is fluctuating constantly while remaining mathematically and reassuringly precise – a weird rhythmic attribute that wouldn’t achieve genre-form until the turn of the millennium and microhouse.

However, Kraftwerk would only release one more studio album, before transforming into a kind of self-repairing museum exhibit. But the musicians they had inspired were only just getting started.

These days group founder Ralf Hutter talks earnestly of a “spiritual connection” the Dusseldorf group had with Detroit, and fondly remembers being taken clubbing there by Juan Atkins and Derrick May. It’s a sweet acknowledgement of a sort of symbolic passing of the torch.

The electro fad that encompassed Planet Rock, Cybotron and Computer World was a short-lived musical moment, but it provided a template for electronic dancing music, and its twin child genres, techno and house, dominate dance music to this day.

Spotify playlist: early techno

Techno was a pure refinement of electro’s science fiction leanings and post-human surrender to quantised machine rhythms, while house gleefully shed that stiffness for a soulful bounce and party-appropriate funkiness.

Of the two, techno had the longer and slightly more painful gestation. Its first single may or not be ShareVari – a comic send-up of early 80s Detroit scenesters that, in its instrumental version, formed a brilliant, bluntly aggressive dance track. The single was credited to ‘A Number of Names’ by the Detroit DJ The Electrifying Mojo, as its authors hadn’t thought to present the track with any identifying information.

A Number Of Names – Sharevari (Instrumental)

The Detroit Metro Times commented of ShareVari that it sounds like multiple records being mixed, suggesting that it was Detroit’s first record to respond to what the DJ added to the music.

Juan Atkins firmly denies that ShareVari came out before his own Alleys of Your Mind, and alleges that A Number of Names didn’t release their track for another year, sneakily adding ‘1981’ to the label in order to snatch some retrospective credit for Cybotron’s new sound.

Whatever, this music was now altering its composition to respond to changes in how that music was being disseminated and enjoyed. In a new feedback loop that featured the club, the DJ and the producer in some eternal ouroboric three-way, the way music was structured was now being informed by how people wanted to dance to it.

So, Shari Vari might be the first techno single, but between its release and 1987 there was only one person in the world making techno music, and that person was Juan Atkins.

By the middle of the decade, Atkins had retired Cybotron and devoted himself single-mindedly to the pursuit of a melodic but  technology-driven music made for clubs. Released under the name Model 500, his classic singles during this period are the very foundation of techno.

The word for the world is forest

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Some of you may have noticed that we have spent the last few weeks caught in a whirlpool of Japanese ambient and minimal composition, perhaps driven by a subconscious impulse to find refuge from nasty reality.

Many of these records have natural or organic themes, which could well reflect the artists’ own search for spaces of serenity amidst the hyper-accelerated lanes of late-era capitalism. Today we bring you a selection of tracks with that vibe, hope that you find them as soothingly beautiful as we do, and also that when we get together this time next week we don’t have any more reasons to want to escape reality.

We cross our fingers, hard.

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We start with Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Flora (1987, reissued in 2006). We already featured Yoshimura a few weeks ago, a propos of his Pier & Loft Tape. While the tracks there had the blue mood of a melancholy playboy smoking cigarettes at the marina, Flora is all about the green (well there is actually another Yoshimura album called Green, but we’ll tell you about that some other time).

Flora is a paradox: it is an artificial replica of nature created by a masterful sound designer and composer. Its synths soar like childhood sketches of Popol Vuh, its melodies ebb, twist and flow like forest paths created by furtive furries , or secret streams hosting impossible dragonflies. It contains moments of sheer pristine perfection when rays of light reach for us through the trees like the fingers of a purifying spirit, to scrub away the grime of existence.

If humanity has a Fallout moment, and we have to retreat into underground vaults, we will play Flora to the children who grow up there, to show them the wonders that existed before we fucked up.

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Flora

Discogs page.

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Then comes Yutaka Hirose’s Soundscape 2: Nova. As usual, what little information about the artist/record there is comes from the wonderful Listen to This blog (who everyone should follow). There, we find out that Nova was financed (together with another Yoshimura album) by “Misawa Home Corporation for use in their prefabricated houses between 1986 and 1988”.

This is another example of the paradox between the natural and the artificial: birds chirping, water flowing, you can almost feel the branches of the trees rubbing on your shoulders as you ramble through this soundscape. But you are not in the woods, you are in a prefabricated house in one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Hirose’s intricate melodies pick up on the dreamy yearning of that cognitive dissonance, and open Ghibli-esque portals into parallel universes of green quiet, under the paving stones the mulch.

Yutaka Hirose – Slow Sky

Discogs page for Soundscape 2: Nova.

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We conclude today’s triptych of nature with Motohiko Hamase, a jazz bassist whose Notes of Forestry (1988) is a mystery in its origin, but that fits the music just fine. The title track, with its lithe Satie melody and playful assortment of cartoon noises perfectly captures the sense of freedom that we feel when walk out of the road, and into the forest.

With but a step we move from a clear grid of options to a rhizome of possibilities. As the sound of traffic fades away time and space themselves dissolve, and we feel that, if we kept walking, we would step into another country or another era. The forest doesn’t care, it has seen it all, and Motohiko Hamase’s music perhaps soundtrack’s the wry amusement with which it observes us, as we ramble happily through its home.

Motohiko Hamase – Notes of Forestry

Discogs page for Notes of Forestry.

This post’s artwork is one of E. McKnight Kauffer’s illustrations for a 1944 edition of Green Mansions by W. H. Hudson. We obtained it from 50Watts.

Saturday mixtape : The very power hungry fart

Featuring : Podcast

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On Monday morning he ate through democracy, but he was still hungry for power.

On Tuesday he objectified and degraded women, but he was still hungry for power.

On Wednesday he decided people of a different skin color were inferior to him, but he was still hungry for power.

On Thursday he decided people with a different sexual orientation to him were unacceptable, but he was still hungry for power.

On Friday he built a death star and pointed it at everyone who he disagreed with.

Trump

  1. emit wind from the anus.
  2. waste time on silly or trivial things.

noun

  1. an emission of wind from the anus.
  2. a boring or contemptible person.

Trumpery

  1. Attractive articles of little value or use.
  2. Practices or beliefs that are superficially or visually appealing but have little real value or worth.

adjective

  1. Showy but worthless.
  2. Delusive or shallow.

 
XXJFG Elected mixtape – Nominative determinism

The Incredible Lightness of Dub

Featuring : Luis + minimalviolence

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1080p continues to bridge the impossible divide between genre adherence and facsimile, and to erase the boundary between DIY Music and (presumably) ‘real’ dance music.  Because dance music made with pawn shop synthesisers was never DIY, oh no.

1080p is an interesting place to hang out.  The inners maybe artfully pre-faded and I’m sure if this 20JFG writer was more of a sample nerd the drums might be just so, but this seems like bait to those that would be easily blindsided by the aesthetic callback and miss the music within.  Like some sort of hautological camo.

And what music.  This week we share a couple of tracks that came out this month.

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First up is the beautiful minimal dub of Shea’s World by Luis.  All simple, looping melodies and equally simple drum tracks, floating past each other in the night-blue gloom.  Theirs is a beauty of the synthetic, the beauty of deserted concrete streets and grey brick buildings.  The 4am magic of the night.  The waking dream of the journey home, the hazy imprint of the night so far, the brutal light of public transport and the way it jolts you back into reality so hard you go spinning out the other side into your interior world.  All these things, moving past each other as your mind lies floating underwater between these vast shadows

Luis – Shea’s World

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Next we have the appropriately named minimalviolence and Girl Talk.  All squelchy early techno synths and those crashing symbol samples.  Here too, washes of synthetic chords weave in and around the drum patterns but where Shea’s World aimed for a dubbed grace, here we’re still nominally on the dancefloor.  Or at least the memory of one.  A tough, brutal one where when the drums hit, they come pre-dulled, like they’ve done this a million times before.

minimalviolence – Girl Talk

Shea’s world is taken from Luis’ 12″ Dreamt Takes.  Girl Talk is taken from minimalviolence’s 12″ Night Gym.  Both are out now on the incomparable 1080p.  You can order them both right here or from your favourite stockist of fine music recordings.

Manhole_69.biz

Featuring : Mamoru Fujieda

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The trials with human subjects had been going on for weeks before the investment was announced. The press releases were hyperbolic: if we want to stay relevant in a world of intelligent machines, we need to re-engineer our own brains. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, we finally have the foundation to do this. This seed investment will help.

The initial trial results were very promising: the rejection rates for the neural grafts were low, and the cognitive performance of the test subjects improved significantly. We were so excited. We were breaking new ground, and we were going to make a ton of money. 

We were also taking the brain, the result of billions of years of evolution, and poking it with a stick to see what happened. Oh well.

After a few weeks, the cognitive capability growth curve started plateauing, and the behaviour of the patients became increasingly erratic. They were distracted, impatient and volatile. They sat at the cafeteria and the library in small groups, talking in whispers, gazing shiftily at each other and at us. Initially, we thought that their enhanced intellects were chafing at the restrictions of the test facilities. They were probably channeling their new cognitive resources into mind games, perhaps even getting a bit paranoid. We would need to keep an eye on them.

And then, one night, test subject Morales was stabbed in a corridor. 65 knife wounds. I remember the smell of his bowels, one of the orderlies skidding in the pool of blood, black on white. The CCTV footage was horrifying. Six individuals had assaulted Morales on his way to the bedroom. We couldn’t identify any of them because they were wearing crude masks made of bed linen.

I know what you are thinking. We should have shut down the trials and called the police, but you can imagine what our investors thought about that. Instead, we hired a private security firm and started interviewing all the test subjects.

Reese, a member of Morales’ ‘group’, opened up to us in the director’s room. His story was hard to believe. According to him, the neural grafts had produced a significant side-effect: they had severely warped the test subjects’ sense of time. The specifics of this distortion varied across individuals.

In some of them, the subjective perception of duration became extreme and unpredictable. Seconds felt like hours, days felt like seconds. What should have been a momentary irritation – a shaving cut, a sore tooth – became an eternity of agony.

In others, memories of the past, experiences of the present and expectations about the future blended into each other, making the subjects feel as if they were being buried alive in a tomb of time.

Yet another group perceived time as a road of forking paths, every action they took opened up a new path, a slice of them went this way, another that way. It was as if they were living through a shredder.

One group became convinced that future or past versions of themselves had travelled ‘here’ and were following them, perhaps meant them harm.

How could the test subjects function with all this going on inside their heads? It was hard, Reese said. It required a lot of mental effort. This explained why their test results had stalled: the subjects had been focusing their expanding cognitive powers on dealing with all this temporal disruption. But they were starting to get used to it now, and starting to think, ‘what next?’.

Subjects with the same symptoms started forming gangs. They didn’t think that different senses of time could coexist in the same society. They would have to compete with each other for dominance. They also felt threatened by our ‘primitive’, linear, sequential temporal perceptions. They started conspiring against us. Morales wanted to warn us about what was happening. This is why he was murdered.

The interview finished and we sat down in silence. The security director  stared at me uncomprehendingly. This was way out of his league. I looked at Reese. I wondered what must be going on inside his head. The level of neurosis that could have created this incredible hallucination.

And then the lights went off.

We tried to open the door but it was locked. After a few moments, I heard someone whispering outside, not just one voice, many voices, becoming a singalong chorus: Reese, Reese, Reese, you shouldn’t have, Reese, Reese, you are a bad boy, you telltale Reese, you are punished Reese, go and stand against the wall, go and stand against the wall. NOW.

Reese whimpered, and then there was silence. When the lights came on, some time later, he wasn’t there

30 test subjects escaped from the test facilities that night, taking with them several cases of biological materials and neural graft samples. Their attack had been coldly efficient, and as far as we could tell no-one was hurt. However, I remember something strange happened when I stopped by the director’s room to pick up my notes. I heard someone crying. The sound was very faint, as if arrived from far away. It sounded like Reese. It couldn’t be. The room was empty.

I went back home.

The police investigation concluded that the trials had induced an episode of mass psychosis in the test subjects. The company shut down and the investment was written off. I went to work for another lab.

Life has gone on. Sometimes I dream of an empty room, echoes of crying, a shadow against the wall. I try to imagine what those test subjects are up to now. If Reese was right, they are out there, super-intelligent, ruthless, intent on transforming humanity’s perception of time, and mould it to theirs. They are not short of options.

I look at my TV, my smartphone, my computer, I see news of big mergers between telecommunications giants and media companies, I look at my grandchildren staring at their screen of their mobile phones, as space dissolves and all time becomes now. I think of the Time Gangs, and I know in my bones that their project is in train.

This short story was partly inspired by James Gleick’s Time Travel, and Ted Chiang’s Understand. The image above is by Frédéric Fontenoi

mamoru_fujieda

Dissonant, vertiginous melodies chase each other across loosely coupled slices of quantum reality in Mamoru Fujieda’s Radiated Falling, achieving a temporal discombobulation to rival the effects of the best neural grafts in the market. Enjoy!

Mamoru Fujieda – Radiated Falling (1980)