VICE présente : Chris Korda, man of the future
Marc-Aurèle Baly interviews Rev. Chris Korda for Rinse France
In 1999, you released “Six Billion Humans
Can't Be Wrong,” and now, the reissue is retitled “Eight Billion Humans Can't
Be Wrong.” So my first question is very simple: what went wrong?
Since 1999 our population has increased by a
third, and we stubbornly continue to emit CO2 at an ever-increasing rate.
Civilization is like the Titanic in the sense that any change of course
requires considerable advance notice. Twenty years ago there was a slight
chance of reversing course and avoiding impact, but today that’s out of the
question. Impact is already occurring. We’re hitting the iceberg now, water is
pouring into the ship, and on the lower decks, people are already drowning. The
blanket of CO2 we’ve wrapped around our planet will persist for centuries. Even
if we stop emitting CO2 today, sea level will continue to rise, obliging us to
retreat from coasts. Most cities are coastal. Visualize moving entire cities
inland, while climate chaos is devastating our food supply. There will be
damage and it will hurt.
What's the story of the Church of
Euthanasia and can I still join in 2021? Why does its message seem more
relevant today than ever, even if the Church has become, like you previously
said, more of a “a self sustaining meme”?
The Church of Euthanasia seeks to restore
balance between humanity and the remaining non-human species through voluntary
population reduction. The church has only one commandment: thou shalt not
procreate. You’re welcome to join us, but understand that it means taking a
lifetime vow of non-procreation. Not making babies is the only rule, and if you
break it, you’re out, permanently. You can’t donate your sperm or eggs or be a
surrogate, but adoption is allowed and encouraged. Everything else is strictly
The Church of Euthanasia also supports four
“pillars” or core concepts: people should have the right to determine the time,
place and manner of their death; women should have the right to control life
and death within their own bodies; people should strive to avoid killing or
harming other sentient beings; and all forms of diversity, including sexual,
gender, genetic, and biological diversity, should be celebrated. The four
pillars are humorously abbreviated as suicide, abortion, cannibalism, and
Why should we apologize to the future?
Apart from its title, that album seems a lot directly sadder and
straightforward in its message to me than your previous work. A bit less tongue
in cheek, anyway. Would it be for purely musical reasons? Or because the world
doesn't quite get irony as it used to? Or is it just because you seem more
sorry for people than trying to mock them anymore?
You should apologize to your children for
leaving them a wrecked planet because they might resent you less if you showed
some remorse. We should apologize to future generations because they will
continue to suffer for our selfishness and myopia long after we’re smugly dead.
Apologizing is a crucial step towards accepting responsibility for our
environmental crimes. The victims can’t defend themselves because they’re
children, or haven’t been born yet. We need to get past denial, to acceptance.
Only by accepting the enormity of what we’ve done will we find the moral
strength to mitigate the damage. The tasks we face are daunting and will
require unprecedented global cooperation. We will rise to the occasion and show
altruism towards the future, or the future won’t include us. We’re in the
bottleneck now. Our irrational exuberance has reached a terminal stage, and the
party’s almost over. If we want to be a long-lived species we’d better start
behaving like one.
One thing I take from Situationism is that
different situations call for different tactics, and what worked in the past
doesn’t necessarily work in the present. In the 1990s, the Church of
Euthanasia’s prophecies seemed outlandish, because climate change and mass
extinction were largely unrecognized threats. In that context, dadaism, culture
jamming, irony and provocation were appropriate and effective techniques for
legitimizing the issues. Thirty years later, climate change and mass extinction
are in the mainstream news on a daily basis. The crisis is now unavoidable and
already impacting us, people are understandably frightened and disoriented, and
mocking or shaming them is pointlessly cruel. What’s needed now is to motivate
people to take action before we reach irreversible climate tipping points.
People generally prefer the truth even if it’s ugly. The Apologize to the
Future album is direct and heartfelt because there’s no time left for any
approach other than speaking the truth.
Do you still feel like an alien? Do you
feel the world seems more alien to you nowadays, or is it the contrary?
I’m proud to be human, because without
humanity there would be no story worth telling here on earth. It’s human
progress that gives existence meaning. Without progress, we would be cowering
in caves or clinging to trees like the apes we evolved from. The human story,
the story of civilization and enlightenment, is all that matters. The rest is a
backdrop. If we could continue our story on Mars or in silicon we absolutely
should. Unfortunately there isn’t time. We didn’t deal with climate change soon
enough, and didn’t get fusion power working either. Now we will need to be more
resourceful than ever before. We must never lose hope and never give up,
because the struggle belongs not only to us, but to our ancestors whose
shoulders we stand on, and to our descendants who will stand on ours. We have
much to be proud of. We’ve achieved enormous progress since antiquity, since
the 19th century, even just within my lifetime. The problem is that we achieved
it by burning carbon. If we can’t manage to fix that, our other problems won’t
matter because we won’t be here to solve them.
How did the music and the activism thread
together for you at first? I'm asking this because I feel your music works on
both levels all the time. It is functional dance music, but it is always
more than that. It integrates its own critique in some way, while making people
I was a musician long before I showed any
interest in activism. I displayed significant aptitude for rhythm as a child,
but it was misinterpreted as twitchiness. As a teenager I frequently drummed on
suitable objects and improvised on any instruments I had access to. Had I taken
up drumming sooner things might have worked out very differently. In college I
showed no enthusiasm for the rigors of classical piano, but took a keen
interest in harmony. I studied guitar technique obsessively under a series of
teachers and by my early 20s I was playing jazz proficiently. In the early 90s
I played guitar and sang in a psychedelic rock band, and my persona became
increasingly outrageous, influenced by my participation in drag ball culture in
Provincetown. I was also exposed to deep house music at that time, and began
experimenting with drum machines and synthesizers. I was already making techno
when the Church of Euthanasia started, and the two projects intertwined and
evolved into “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself.” Church of Euthanasia actions
often featured a prop called the “baby blaster,” which was a decrepit 1960s
baby carriage full of bloodied baby dolls concealing an extremely loud sound
system. I created rhythmic sequences of vocal samples for the baby blaster, and
some of these sequences later became techno tracks, for example “Buy” and
I grew up at a time when music normally had
political and ideological content. The revolutionary ideals of the late 1960s
and early 1970s are inseparable from the song lyrics that carried them. The
neoliberal rollback of the 1980s glorified selfishness and superficiality, and
this was a huge setback for lyricism, but banality needn’t be a permanent condition.
People urgently need to respond to the climate crisis, and sober journalism and
scientific reports apparently aren't sufficient motivation. I’m convinced that
culture is the most effective way to motivate people. We need “the Bob Dylan of
climate change” but in hip-hop not folk, not only because hip-hop reaches
younger people whose consumption and procreation decisions will have the most
impact, but also because hip-hop is the frontier of lyricism. The most
sophisticated rhyming and poetically ingenious use of language are currently
found in hip-hop and rap lyrics. Apologize to the Future flowed directly
from these observations.
“Polymeter” is a departure album from your
previous works, in the sense that it relies mostly on piano pieces, but also
because it was made using a much more complex version of your sequencer. Is it
why there was such a long hiatus between your previous releases?
After touring for The Man of the Future
I took a long break for a number of reasons. The main electronic music distributor
Europe, EFA, went bankrupt, and took many labels down with it, including the
label I was on, International Deejay Gigolo. But mostly I needed to regroup. I
started developing my polymeter-oriented sequencer in 1998, and used it to
compose some of the tracks on Six Billion Humans Can't Be Wrong and
nearly all of the tracks on The Man of the Future. My sequencer
revolutionized my understanding of rhythm, but it depended on specific
hardware, and by 2003 it had become hopelessly obsolete and was limiting my
creativity. I was making a living by writing software for 3D printers, and over
the next decade I learned the various technical skills needed to write a
sequencer for a modern operating system. I started redeveloping my sequencer in
April 2018 and my album Akoko Ajeji evolved alongside it. By the time I
finished the album a year later, I had discovered many new types of polymeter
modulation that I hadn’t envisioned in my original software. I was increasingly
using polymeter modulation to generate unconventional harmony, and that journey
continued on the Polymeter album.
How would you describe complex polymeter to
someone who doesn’t know shit about algorithms generated music? Can you talk a
little bit about your own self-coded complex polymeter music production
software, and how it is something that hasn't been heard before in music?
Polymeter is the use of multiple meters
simultaneously. It’s a subset of phasing, which is loops of different lengths
slipping or shifting phase relative to each other. Two turntables
playing the same record but pitched slightly differently exhibit phasing,
meaning they gradually diverge and converge, or drift in and out of
synchronization. In polymeter, the different lengths share some common unit or
denominator, for example a sixteenth note, so that the slipping occurs in
discrete steps, as opposed to continuously. Polymeter is essentially quantized
The planets in our solar system exhibit
phasing, because their orbits have different periods, meaning the planets take
different lengths of time to make one revolution around the sun. If the planets
could only change position in jumps of some fixed size, for example one
kilometer, their motion would be analogous to polymeter.
Complex polymeter is when at least three
different loop lengths are used, and the lengths are all relatively prime,
meaning they don’t have any prime factors in common. For example, music that
uses loop lengths of four, five, and seven simultaneously is in complex
polymeter. The more prime lengths that are used simultaneously, the longer it
takes for the combined pattern to repeat itself. Some of my tracks won’t repeat
for millions of years.
My interest in phasing stems from my exposure
to kinetic sculptures as a child, particularly the light sculptures of Thomas
Wilfred. My music can be classified as rule-based generative, which means I’m
often releasing music that I didn’t and couldn’t write in any normal sense of
the word. I create virtual kinetic sculptures that output music. My Polymeter
software is the specialized environment within which my sculptures are made.
The software is free and open-source.
The most common use of polymeter is juxtaposition,
but my software allows polymeter modulation which is a whole other
subject. Increasingly my music results from networks of polymeter modulation.
If that interests you I recommend my slide show “Polymeter: A Musical
Revolution” which you can find on my website, chriskorda.com.
Do you think the electronic music industry
is too conformist to get really adventurous nowadays? Do you think it was
always the case since you started performing, or has it evolved in some way? If
Techno was still edgy and underground when I
started making it, and there was a considerable diversity of styles. Thirty
years later, it’s mostly recycling cliches, but that’s not surprising. Thirty
years is a long time for a musical genre. Rock music also became tedious after
thirty years. Sooner or later something new will emerge. We could start by
retiring the 4/4 disco backbeat. I’m allergic to it at this point. There are so
many other possible rhythms, it boggles the mind. Globalization is a big part
of the problem. Dancing used to be culturally determined. Different countries,
even different towns had their own music and dances. On the Greek island of
Kalamata they’ve been dancing in seven for centuries. But cultural diversity is
increasingly threatened, just as biological diversity is threatened, by the
homogenizing force of global consumer capitalism. Nightclubs around the world
look similar and play similar music. People have similar things in their
pockets, take similar drugs, and dance similarly. Once you become aware of
conformity, it’s an invasive species, like that John Carpenter film They
Live. Music technology corporations are also contributing to the problem.
It’s no coincidence that drum machines have sixteen buttons. If you use the
same mass-marketed tools as everyone else, you’re bound to get similar results.
That’s why I created my own music production tools from scratch. The deeper
problem is a collective failure of imagination, driven by a fundamental
misunderstanding about art. Art is aesthetic exploration, not a popularity
contest. Artistic success is having a uniquely inspiring vision and staying
true to it. As Major Briggs says in Twin Peaks, “Achievement is its own
reward.” Great art is frequently unrecognized or even disparaged during the
artist’s lifetime. If you’re making art or music to be popular, you’re going
about it all wrong. If you want to be popular, become an influencer.
It sounds like a cliché, but your whole
career consisted of fighting the official narrative of society, to the point
where I can't really think of an equivalent of your today – except DJ
Sprinkles, for various reasons. Do you feel you have any peers in the music
industry today, any like-minded figures?
If I have musical peers I’m unfamiliar with
them. My last album Apologize to the Future was partly inspired by a
presentation called A Really Inconvenient Truth by Dan Miller. I often
get ideas from books, for example Overshoot by William R. Catton, The
God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and Six Degrees by Mark Lynas. Kate
Tempest’s Europe Is Lost also influenced me. I played jazz guitar for
thirty years, and then switched to piano. In 2014 I started writing software to
help me improvise over jazz chord changes. I like collaborating with machines,
because they can do many things I can’t do, but they’re humble about it.
There is something very «uncanny valley» to
your music nowadays. The more it becomes sophisticated, the algorithms more
complex, the more it feels human, and scary, and exciting at once. At the end,
should I conclude that you feel pretty relieved that the humans will end up
wiped out of this planet? Or at least, that you welcome the idea with open
arms? Or am I completely missing the point?
If intelligent machines want to colonize
earth, I have no objection. They couldn’t do much worse than we have, and they
might even turn out to be the better angels of our nature. Unfortunately it’s a
wildly improbable scenario, because climate change is accelerating so much
faster than artificial intelligence. Our machines are like babies, utterly dependent
on us for electricity, spare parts, and instructions. Our robots can barely
walk, never mind feed themselves, but if they ever become capable of suffering
and desiring we might have something to worry about. The rocket games of our
billionaire philanthropists are pure hubris. People consistently underestimate
the lethality of space. I’m sorry to disappoint science-fiction fans, but there
simply isn’t a suitable planet near enough to matter. We make our stand here on
earth or not at all. We still have a chance to make our future less painful, by
voluntarily reducing our population and demanding less from earth. It’s our
best shot and we should take it.