11 Oct 2022

Long Low Light – Two Sci-Fi-Themed Songs

Here are some new recordings of two songs that incorporate elements of science fiction. We were thinking of calling them a single, but really they're both B-sides – so this is an extremely uncommercial double B-side.

Musically, these two songs are a bit more gnarly than most of what I've been writing recently, so had been consigned to the "doesn't fit on the album" pile.

But it turned out that while they weren't working in the context of the album, I like them in the context of each other. (You just have to be more in the mood for prog rock/art song.)

They were both mostly written around 2013–14, when I'd been listening to Gentle Giant and King Crimson quite a lot.

Long Low Light

I started writing this song in 2013. It went through many iterations, and the version in this recording finally arrived in 2019. It's about climate change denial (in the song this takes a particular, speculative/fictionalised form specific to high latitudes). The effects of climate change have become increasingly tangible even during the time it took me to write this song – and yet there are (apparently?) still some people denying its existence.

The song explores the ideas that human instinct and emotions evolved in response to a very different world to the one we live in now; that what our emotions tell us is happening might sometimes be at odds with objective reality; and that we (and the swathes of other species we're taking down with us) cannot possibly evolve and adapt to the world we're turning the planet into at the same speed as these changes occurring.

It was influenced by Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, and Love is the Plan the Plan is Death by James Tiptree, Jr. It's a type of prog folk made from part folk song, part string quartet, part metal, and part madrigal.

Come Down and See

This song is a science-fiction allegory for the corporatization of the internet.

The internet of the late 90s was a big part of my social life, even though this mainly involved people I never met. Then one day in 2005 I found out about corporate social media, and the ability to form meaningless connections by clicking a button that said "add as friend" just to boost one's follower statistics, and I remember feeling a kind of dread in my whole body – because this new, empty slickness would surely destroy the messy, organic, long-winded, complex ecosystem of the internet I loved and was part of.

I didn't know all the wider implications for global systems and society that would ultimately result, in part because at the age of 24 I didn't know much about anything other than folk music, HTML, dog breeds, how to live on £50 a week, and public transport connections across the north of England. Others, who didn't have my particular set of privileges, knew a lot more, sometimes from first-hand experience (e.g. Hossein Derakhshan, who explains more comprehensively and eloquently than I ever could).

I duly signed up for a MySpace account, because that was where the internet-party had migrated, then Facebook when the party moved there. Eventually I left Facebook, which was a wrench, but ultimately I knew I had to remove myself from it – not just because of a moral objection to its wider business practices but also because I could feel the ways it was designed to emotionally manipulate its users (deliberately exploiting vulnerable bits of our psychologies which evolved to survive in a completely different environment, as mentioned above), and that they were working on me even though I was conscious of them, and it felt really unhealthy. Initially when I closed my Facebook account I felt horrifyingly lonely and disconnected, and the fact that a corporation was able to do that to me emotionally – to effectively own my social life – was further evidence that leaving was the right decision. Maybe others can compartmentalise better and don't feel this, but I certainly needed to get out.

Web 1.0 still exists, of course, sort of – albeit in this kind of hybridised form in which you can mostly only find interesting sites via social media (of course), because search engines don't work the way they used to and nobody has "Links" pages anymore because people used them to game the search engines, so the search engines started penalising the websites that had them. Ho hum. But the song is a small attempt at utopia building, nonetheless.

Coincidentally, this song has some elements in common with the 2019 film Io, directed by Jonathan Helpert, even though the film's premise has nothing to do with social media.

The violin tone I was trying to evoke on this recording was that of the violin solo in the opening theme to Joss Whedon's space western Firefly. (I can't find out who that violinist was – anyone who knows, please get in touch and tell me!)

You can get it from Bandcamp.