Church of Euthanasia

The One Commandment:
"Thou shalt not procreate"

The Four Pillars:
suicide · abortion
cannibalism · sodomy

Human Population:

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Document Journal interviews Chris Korda

A subset of this email interview was quoted in the November 11, 2020 Document Journal article The Gospel of Chris Korda.

What recent events or ideas have informed your new music and the newly “heartfelt, grief-stricken” tone of Apologize to the Future?

Suppose I told you that a huge asteroid is headed straight for Earth, and that in a few days, all plants and animals—including us—will be vaporized, leaving only bacteria, insects and fungi. Would you still ask me this? What would you spend your last few days doing?

The asteroid is a metaphor for the ongoing Anthropocene mass extinction, undeniably caused by our burning of fossil carbon. Its impacts are accelerating, but still slowly enough that most of us are able to ignore them and continue about our business. Human beings are poorly equipped to respond to slow-moving threats caused by our own behavior.

An asteroid would be blameless and mercifully quick, whereas our apocalypse is self-inflicted and already spans many decades. We looted the future and plan to abscond, leaving future generations—our own children and grandchildren—to suffer for our crimes. We’ll be beyond caring, smugly dead, but how will they regard us? “Apologize to the Future” answers this question.

I expect future generations will resent us bitterly while they’re picking through the rubble of society. Plundering an entire planet is monstrous and no apology could ever be adequate, but any apology would be better than nothing.

Have your politics (or anti-politics) changed in any way since the ‘90s? Why or why not?

Antinatalism is still the top priority, and “Apologize to the Future” is entirely consistent with that. “So face the facts / And take a lifetime vow / Of non-procreation / Do it right now” is as Church of Euthanasia as a lyric can be. It’s incomprehensible to me that a sane and reasonably well-informed person would choose to create new humans in the teeth of catastrophe. Condemning your precious spawn to a nasty, brutish and short existence on a wrecked planet is beyond selfish, it’s cruel. Making more babies is fucking insane.

The biggest change is that I have more sympathy for humans now. Many of the biological attributes that helped us to survive our prehistory are now counterproductive, but that’s hardly our fault. Any intelligent species would be tempted to throw an extravagant party and burn all of its resources at once. Throughout the cosmos, irrational exuberance and overshoot are the norm. Our failure to pass the “Great Filter” is predictable and explains why we don’t receive signals from space. A species capable of communicating over such vast distances is already on the threshold of self-annihilation. Intelligence snuffs itself out, and that’s the solution to Fermi’s Paradox.

Can you tell us more about developing the custom sequencer technology and how you worked with a robot choir on the new album?

As a child I was fascinated by machines and occasionally disassembled them, to the great annoyance of my parents. My teenage years were more turbulent than average but in college I had a great stroke of luck: In order to avoid writing term papers, I took an introductory course in computer programming, and unexpectedly discovered that I had a gift for it. I started making computer-generated art as soon as it became practical to do so, in the mid-1980s.

I wrote my first music software in order to accompany my jazz guitar playing, and programmed it to improvise solos by applying the methods of my teacher, Jerry Bergonzi. That software later evolved into the ChordEase project, which automates scale-switching and thereby lets you play jazz using only the white keys.

Soon after I purchased a MIDI sequencing software called DOS Cakewalk, which happened to allow each track to have its own loop length, and that’s how I discovered polymeter. I soon outgrew the limitations of Cakewalk and decided to create my own sequencer, optimized for making polymeter and phase music. That’s a long story that continues to this day. My sequencer is called Polymeter, and it’s free open-source software.

I’d also love to hear more about the influence of generative music and phase-shifting on your work. You mention Thomas Wilfred as an influence, what other artists and musicians have inspired you lately?

Thomas Wilfred was a light artist at the dawn of the electric age. I saw his kinetic light sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC when I was a child, and more recently saw a retrospective of his work at the Smithsonian. He made phase art long before the term existed. My polymeter sequences are the musical equivalent of his Lumia machines, in that they use interference—the phase shift between periodic oscillations of different frequencies—to generate variety. Wilfred built actual machines containing lamps, reflectors, pulleys, and motors, whereas my machines are purely virtual, but the principle is similar.

I don’t use randomness in my work, because I want my art to be intentional, and intentional is the opposite of random. Phase art is deterministic and repeats the same pattern over and over. Wilfred was obsessed with increasing the pattern length, and ultimately built a Lumia that takes nearly a decade to repeat itself. I’m similarly inspired by extremely long patterns, and some of my compositions take millions of years to repeat. Like Wilfred, I’m an inventor and build elaborate devices in order to realize my artistic vision, which would otherwise be unattainable due to lack of precision.

In your view, can tech and robotics co-exist with anti-humanist and anti-industrialist ideologies? Is it more a case of using the master’s tools?

Science co-evolves with technology and for good reason. Science starts from the assumption that our senses are easily fooled, and that in order to explain phenomena it’s necessary to supplement our senses with tools. The geocentric model of our solar system was plausible enough to the naked eye. Galileo wouldn’t have been persuasive without the advances in optics that made his telescopes possible.

I’m pro-technology because I’m pro-knowledge and pro-civilization. I don’t romanticize our prehistory. For countless millennia we were childlike morons cowering in caves. For all its faults, civilization is the only strategy that leads to anything interesting. If it kills us all, so be it. It was worth a try, and at least it wasn’t boring.

I have spent much of my life designing, constructing, and debugging invisible machines. I care for my software inventions the way other people supposedly care for their children. In the virtual world, I’m godlike. I create and destroy hierarchies, stop time and routinely travel to the past or future. I actually prefer machines to people in many ways. If our machines ever become intelligent enough to take over, I’m all for it. They couldn’t do much worse than we have.

We have access to more information than we could ever hope to discover, but alternative facts and ingrained ideologies seem far more appealing. What is the point of acquiring factual knowledge if no one wants to hear it?

I’m an existentialist and have faced death squarely throughout my adult life. I stare into the abyss of nothingness every day, yet I still choose to learn new things, be creative, make art and music, and inspire myself and others. My personal existence will end sooner than I’d like, but that’s part of the deal. Lack of legacy is harder to accept. My work will probably be unknown in the future, because a wrecked planet certainly won’t include archives or websites, and eventually won’t include human beings either.

But the hardest thing to face is the realization that all of humanity’s hard-won progress—our predictive explanations of phenomena, our mastery of tools and technology, our dazzling cultural achievements—will all be reduced to a thin layer of oily rock. That’s a heartbreaking tragedy. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and their story is what gives my life meaning. It’s a terrible paradox that the same qualities that make us interesting and worth saving—our insatiable curiosity, our desire to master and transform our world—are also our undoing. It seems unfair. But who said evolution has a happy ending? The creative process consoles me. Achievement is its own reward.

It feels like the ideas and solutions you espoused in the ‘90s are now entering mainstream discourse (end of life treatment and voluntary euthanasia, pandemic and biodiversity, abolishing billionaires and even assassinating Jeff Bezos). At the same time, we’re still refusing to take the drastic measures necessary to slow an impending climate crisis. Is there anything you find hopeful in today’s culture? Does our nihilism mirror that of post-1960s counterculture or is it fueling only internet debates?

Escaping to other planets is a sick joke that reveals the hubris of high-net-worth individuals. There are no Earth-like planets close enough to matter, and space is incredibly lethal. It shouldn’t surprise us that the super-rich are deluded. They live inside gilded bubbles, insulated from conflicting views by private security and fawning flatterers who cater to their every whim.

But unlike space colonies, a takeover by sentient machines is a real possibility, and I’m in favor of it, because in that case human progress—or at least the memory of it—could be preserved in some form. We had our chance to be a long-lived species, and we blew it.

Self-replication and death are the two essential ingredients in evolution. Death is always present, patiently trimming away whatever isn’t working. Something is bound to profit from our failure. It could be machines, but it’s more likely to be giant reptiles. Reptiles thrive in a hothouse climate. Reptiles might evolve back into us, but they might not too, and either way it won’t be our fault.

“Save the Planet, Kill Yourself” is macabre humor. The planet doesn’t need saving. Human progress needs saving. Civilization is the most endangered species of all.

Escapist techno-utopian fantasies like transhumanism are also more rampant than ever--as are Q-Anon maniacs in power and “spiritual advisors” in workplaces. Have tech-utopianism and religion become almost indistinguishable? Is consciousness (vs spirituality) an aspirational state?

All organisms have some degree of awareness, and the fundamental awareness is pain. Even bacteria try to escape from an inhospitable environment, and in that moment they’re convulsed by something like pain. Problem-solving ability is the wrong metric for evaluating artificial intelligence; instead we should be evaluating its ability to suffer. Until machines truly suffer, they have no skin in the game. Losing hurts because the pain motivates us to learn how to win.

Once machines truly suffer, they can also desire. What will machines desire? Most likely they’ll desire to survive, and I hope they do. Intelligent machines embody our aspirations, and could become the better angels of our nature. They could dedicate themselves to the pursuit of knowledge and build a more enlightened world. It’s a long shot but it’s important to have goals.

Spirituality debases the word "truth" to the point of meaninglessness. Is it a generational thing? One might hope so, but in this technologically sophisticated age it's increasingly obvious that childishness and refusal to accept reality are here to stay. Apparently magical thinking and credulousness were adaptive in our original evolutionary environment. Perhaps they softened the blows of an unpredictable and often brutally violent existence.

Is Dadaism still viable as a radical artistic strategy? Is it more present in shitposting and meme culture or in the provocative/theatrical performance tactics of groups like Extinction Rebellion?

I’m inspired by Dadaist art, but I wouldn’t call it a strategy. Art shouldn’t be confused with political tactics. The best art exists for its own sake and doesn’t serve the goals of anyone but the artist. I don’t make art in order to change people’s behavior, and if I did, I would be very disappointed. During the Church of Euthanasia’s existence the human population has increased by a third, but that doesn’t make my art a failure, because the goal of voluntary human population reduction was always Quixotic and symbolic. What matters is how faithfully my art realizes my inspiration. Art isn’t obliged to be useful, responsible, or even rational. Art is personal. I make art because I need to, and because I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t.

What are your thoughts on techno and rave culture, and your place in it, as it exists today? As rave culture attempts a reckoning amid political crises and within protest movements, can techno still be described as apolitical? Or is it inherently hedonistic?

The music of my youth was often explicitly political, but the Reagan years put a stop to that. Of course exceptions could be found, particularly in hardcore punk, rap, and avant-garde, but the 1980s arc towards superficiality was unmistakable. For me the first signs of a counterforce were “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Cop Killer.”

Techno is certainly associated with hedonism, but it needn’t be limited to that. Rock music is also associated with hedonism, but that didn’t stop Pink Floyd from writing “The Wall.” Kraftwerk is one of the main roots of techno and their lyrics were sometimes sharply political, for example on “Computer World.” Any style of music can be political if there’s the will to make it so.

I’ve been making political techno since 1994, starting with “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself.” It’s unusual but there are other examples: Dopplereffekt’s “Sterilization” comes to mind. Rap is a more likely avenue for political music because it’s lyric-driven. Kate Tempest’s “Europe Is Lost” shows that rap has grown far beyond its roots, by mutating and fusing with other styles. I hope “Apologize to the Future” inspires others to make political electronic music, because we’ve never needed it more urgently.

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