words by guia cortassa
photo by matthew parri thomas
“For this imaginary exploration of time and space, he did not resort to vague troublesome mechanisms, but instead to the fusion of a human mind with others, to a kind of lucid ecstasy or (if one wants) a variation of a certain famous Cabalistic doctrine, which supposes that in the body of a man can inhabit many souls, as in the body of a woman about to be a mother.”
It was 1965 when Jorge Luis Borges wrote the introduction to the first Spanish translation of a British speculative fiction novel which had been written almost thirty years before. A speculative fiction writer himself, the Argentinian author had found in Olaf Stapledon’s “Star Maker,” published in 1937, a text unique in its genre, encompassing Astronomy, Philosophy, Religion and Social Commentary while bending the strict rules of SCI-FI literature. Within the pages, Stapledon both theorized a star structure that would later become known as Dyson Spheres –– narrated in the book as ever growing conglomerates of disembodied intelligences, melding into a huge “cosmic mind”–– ,and at the same time created a new Theogony, giving the old topos of the multiverse a new meaning.
The “hypothetical set of various possible universes including the universe which we live in coexisting at the same time” allows a non-binary thinking, a space where making a decision doesn’t necessary rule out its opposite, or the left out possibilities, but just deploys them to an alternative reality.
Behind Stapledon’s multiverse is, in fact, ” the “Star Maker,” a supreme being generating his creatures and learning from each of their experiences, thus improving itself to reach the goal of giving birth to the best possible living condition, more as a scientist aiming to get his experiment right than as a Father moved by love. “God, who created all things in the beginning, is himself created by all things in the end[,]” explained Borges in his foreword to the Spanish translation. Not an almighty, perfect divine being, but a divinity thirsty for knowledge, “standing in the same relation to [its creation] as an artist to his work.”
Everything in Stapledon’s vision is driven by an anthropic reasoning and defies the constancy of the speed of light, to make the “supreme movements of the cosmos” be feasible for all the inhabitants of the universe simultaneously. Even the stars themselves may be conscious and move by psychokinetic action. This “universal mentality” comprises both living creatures and technology in a cosmic union –– and it’s stunning to realize how Stapledon’s Star Maker approach and acting foresees our contemporary AI algorithms’ machine learning.
Nigel Chapman is a self proclaimed “Star Maker.” Together with Brad Loughead, Josh Salter, and Seamus Dalton, they form the “cosmic mind” behind Nap Eyes, the spread out super-intelligence that allowed the band’s latest I’m Bad Now to take shape between Halifax and Montreal.
Their two previous release (which, with this new one, form a sort of trilogy delving into the ever ungraspable, philosophical meaning of life in relation to science) both came from a poetic standpoint, with the debut Whine of the Mystic inspired by a Persian mathematician, astronomer and poet from the 11th century named Omar Khayyám, and the sophomore Thought Rock Fish Scale activated by “mystically inclined minimalist poet” Robert Lax.
This time, though, mysticism has given way to a bittersweet investigation on the post-human world: the relationship among its inhabitants and theirselves, the others, the surroundings and the significance.
To catch another’s wavelength
Sure can make a difference
In this world.”
-You Like To Joke Around With Me
So, if self-consciousness is the primary theme of investigation of the album, can solipsism still exist in the frame of a cosmic mind? How can the knowledge shift from the self to a collective thought?
For a start, pronouns can help with this. Just like Stapledon, Chapman writes in the second person, leaving an indefinition on the bigger picture: is that “you” a single person outside himself he’s addressing to? Is it a plurality, a group? It could be an impersonal form, a generic, indefinite subject; Or else, maybe, he’s just talking to himself. Each of this possibilities fit, and generate a different meaning, layering the multiverse of the thinking.
“Oh I can’t tell what’s worse:
The meaninglessness or the negative meaning
But I figured out a way
To get on with my life and to keep on dreaming”
– Everytime the Feeling
Almost as a freudian slip, the opening “Everytime the Feeling” chorus reveals that the narrator and its collective thinking are one and the same, changing perspective from the second to the first person. Dreams, disappointment, knowledge, unexpected acts of kindness from significant others, loneliness. The quest for a sense in a life is even more difficult when roles are blurred and polysemic.
The romantic attitude and the scientific brain coexist, in a context where memories are depicted as “the rewiring process/ The synaptic protein fold caress” within a song titled “Judgement,” tackling the issue of communicating, of exposing someone’s thoughts and ideas to learn from how they are received by others, still mingling in self-doubt and the need for validation – “If there’s a right road, would you/ Kindly, show me?” the narrator asks.
“People look at their reflections everywhere in everyone/ Some like a soft glow, some a little sharper depiction” continues in the following “Roses.” The flowery icon of loves turns into an occasion to ponder on relationships and reciprocity. Love isn’t a universal language, but a highly personal grammar, different for each individual, almost unintelligible and impossible to grasp and understand when first encountered in a new person – “you know, he’s trying to be nice, but is it really the right way?”
But it’s not just words: in the cosmic mind, music plays a fundamental part.
Though all purporting to be of Nova Scotian origin, Chapman is the only band member still living in his homeland, with Brad Loughead, Josh Salter, and Seamus Dalton now based in Montreal, and it’s hard not to place Nap Eyes within the Quebec city art rock scene, matching them to acts like Ought. But that would be a superficial comparison.
In a dialectical opposition with its title, I’m Bad Now‘s sound is soft and comforting, even in its strongest moments. A guitar driven mid-tempo à la Weezer opens the album, immediately introducing the six-string as the main pillar of this record. Be it a Jack White reminiscent contemporary country, as “Judgement” or “Sage” might be, or a slow ballad recalling an early Adam Green, like the closing “Boats Appear”, the sonic structure never loses its solidity and crispness, making each track a necessary piece in the album’s palette. The same is true for Chapman’s voice: his apparently deadpan delivery bears, in fact, a wide set of nuances, able to play with the words’ substance in unexpected ways, enhancing an already complex content. Here, Lou Reed’s lesson was unmistakably learned, but it’s interesting to know that an openly declared source of inspiration is Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, another master in chronicling human criticism.
“Takes time to understand things
and the more you know
the more you know you don’t know.”
– Boats Appear
It’s a Socratic epiphany that closes I’m Bad Now, almost a resignation to the impossibility of ever reaching the living goal of happiness filled with dream visions. It’s the awakening of the cosmic mind, the end of the trip, the moment to acknowledge our incomplete, ever doubting human existence, knee deep in Giacomo Leopardi’s cosmic pessimism, teaching that the more we search for the truth, the less we’ll ever fulfill our desire for everlasting joy.
I’m Bad Now is out today, via Paradise of Bachelors (CA/US) / Jagjaguwar (EU)