(Artwork for Summa Technologiae’s Bulgarian edition)
You already know we are devout followers of Polish thinker and sci-fi writer Stanislaw Łem. Besides writing Solaris, which inspired A. Tarkovski into the collaboration with E. Artemiev we discussed last week, he was also behind many other wonderful science fiction books (The Cyberiad, the Futurological Congress), as well as Summa Technologiae.
This prospective essay on the future of mankind was translated into English last year by the Electronic Mediations Series edited by the University of Minnesota Press. We are currently reading this book, and were impressed by the way it describes the failure of astronomers to detect signals of intelligence when they gaze into the black void with their telescopes and detectors: “Day after day, week after week, their instruments registered nothing but the monotonous cosmic noise generated by dead matter’.
If we accept that the emergence of life and its development into an advanced civilisation is not a freak event but a typical outcome, then this silence is a surprise. Łem spends a fair bit of time considering this possibility, since it has significant implications for his own discussion on the future of mankind.
If life is an outlier then the stars have little to tell us about our own future. However, it could well be the case that life emerges frequently, but there are ‘natural’ obstacles to its development into a civilisation capable of interstellar communication, sending Von Neumann probes across the galaxy to explore it, or engaging in feats of astronomical engineering – like building Dyson spheres to capture the energy of the stars. Different modalities of a filter – cosmic holocaust, civilizational suicide, decay or technological stagnation – would explain this silence, which also vexed Enrico Fermi.
Łem proposes an alternative explanation for the situation, one that is consistent with his pessimism about the ability of humans to communicate with, or even understand the presence of an alien intelligence even if this alien intelligence existed and was singing at them in the face (this is an important theme in Solaris, of course).
The point is quite simple: there are aliens out there, and they produce signals, and they probably use supernova to build enormous reactors – but we can’t see or hear them. The cosmic noise hides their voice, The intensity of the explosions in the sky obscures their acts.
Which brings us to today’s song, by mysterious Texan sybarite of fuzz Smokey Emery. It is a cliché often repeated in this blog of devout worshippers at the altar of HP Lovecraft and Philip K Dick, that artists are individuals more attuned to occurrences below the perceptual threshold of the average human/ scientific instrument. Their visions, prophetic dreams and hallucinations are echoes of a physical reality most of us aren’t able/ready to perceive. Their work is a creative translation of that reality.
In that case, Smokey Emery’s work is a decryption of otherworldly signals written in black ink over the black parchment of the night. The cosmic noise generated by dead, inorganic matter turns into a poem. Sometimes it rumbles like the motor of the universe as it expands away from us. Sometimes it unfolds like a psycho-thriller playing out over aeons. Sometimes it conveys the pop music of dead civilisations muffled by their intergalactic journey. And in ‘The Room Falls Way’, it strums a doomed drone, like the wreck of an Slint cargo cult splattered over the fringes of an event horizon.
Smokey Emery – The Room Falls Away
Get Soundtracks for Invisibility Vol. III: Qué Mal y Pensé from Holodeck Recordings.