Do The Chemical Brothers Dream Of Electric Sheep
    • MONDAY, JANUARY 25, 2016

    • Posted by: Don Saas



    There's always been a connection between electronic music and science fiction. If William Gibson's Neuromancer is ever developed into a movie, it will be a crime if said film isn't scored by an artist like Aphex Twin (or Kid A-era Johnny Greenwood). Aphex Twin managed to translate the spirit of the computer into music. And it's the same deal with Snowcrash Who wants to see Hiro Protagonist having absurd virtual reality sword fights if it isn't scored by bouncing techno? But minus conceptual art like OK Computer or Selected Ambient Works 85-92, that interplay between the sci-fi and the sound is infrequently toyed with. Cue The Chemical Brothers video for "Wide Open."

    It's rare for a music video to be science fiction special effects heavy and minimalist, but god bless, the Chemical Brothers; they know what they're doing at this point. The premise for "Wide Open" (which features Beck on vocals) is of a woman dancing in her underwear in a ballet studio. The video, which is shot in one take (or at least composed to look like it was shot in one take), then slowly reveals (one limb at a time) that this woman may not be so human after all.

    I'm really interested in the idea of trans/posthumanism. Things like uploading our brains into computers and artificial intelligence are really fascinating questions that are going to start being meaningful sooner than we anticipate (Ray Kurzweil predicted the technological singularity will occur in 2045; I'm skeptical that it will happen that soon, but it's probably on its way. And when most works of art deal with this question, they're asking "will the machines we create destroy us" or "can an artificially intelligent being be truly sentient or have real feelings" or "how will the existence of AI radically alter production and the economy." Outside of something like Her or (ironically) Spielberg's A.I., we rarely get asked "what will art mean to the posthuman?" The Chemical Brothers go there in gorgeous fashion.

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was the great question at the heart of the book that Blade Runner is based on, and in "Wide Open," it wants to know if they can dance. And, yes, yes they can. The dance the actress performs is beautiful in its own right, a lithe and fluid celebration of the human form and human movement, but the video spins its powerful web by slowly stripping away that humanity until she's just a web of wire but still maintains her grace and power. It gets at the idea that the human body is simply a machine to begin with (just a biochemical one instead of mechanical) and that we can still achieve art within a machine-driven paradigm.

    Also, be sure to dig Beck's other contributions to sci-fi with his original music from the excellent video game, Sound Shapes.


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