Chris Korda - Trax Interview
Interview by Quentin Grosset
According to you, how are queer and environmental struggles intertwined ?
Civilization could be unanimously queer and still destroy itself by failing to respond to the climate crisis quickly enough. A person can be both queer and uninterested in the fate of future generations. Queer couples make less babies on average, but their impact is small compared to that of natalist dogmas like Catholicism. We don't have time to wait for a queer planet: the bill for our fossil carbon binge is due now. Irrational exuberance may be sexy, but the party is almost over. If we continue to defy ecological limits, civilization will collapse, and our hard-won rights will be buried in the rubble.
How are your political and spiritual practice, your music, and your software creations interlinked today ?
The process by which life established itself on Earth is brutal, but incredibly effective. Humans find evolution disturbing because it's a blind, impersonal force: Richard Dawkins called it the "blind watchmaker." It may be hard to accept that there's no designer, but it's no longer debated by scientists. Evolution optimizes for the prevailing conditions, whatever they may be. That's why most creatures have eyes, excepting those that dwell in caves. Humanity is a special case, in the sense that we're fully self-aware and capable of determining our own destiny. It's possible that we could turn ourselves into robots and conquer the universe, like the Daleks on Doctor Who. Much more likely is that failure to respect the limits imposed on us by the biosphere would cause our own extinction, in which case evolution simply continues on without us. The length of time it took for the dinosaurs to decay into the fossil carbon we're burning so merrily seems huge to us, but it's tiny on the geological time scale. We may or may not manage to create sentient machines, but either way there will be life after people.
How have you made the Church of Euthanasia change since its creation ? How does it work today ? What are your daily activities there ?
The choice between existence and nonexistence is no choice at all. Unlike most anti-natalists, I'm not a nihilist. At the individual level, I can easily imagine being in so much pain that I wished for death, but I no longer pray for human extinction, even at the risk of being a heretic against my own religion. One factor is consent. I deem it implausible to persuade everyone to consent to their own extinction. The other factor is human uniqueness. Without humans, there's no story worth telling on Earth. Our story must continue, in all of its glory and tragedy, because the alternative is contemptible dullness. I doubt that mankind will consciously choose extinction. If we become extinct, it will be despite our efforts to survive. Should it occur, human extinction would be the ultimate tragedy, because tragedy exists only for us. Vindicated by events and more relevant than ever, the Church of Euthanasia spreads and mutates like the meme it was always meant to be.
Can we say that the Church of Euthanasia has an aesthetic vision? How would you define it ? What are its inspirations ?
As in other religions, our members often confide in me. They share their hardships, and confess their temptations and sins. The only sin we're concerned with is procreation. People are naturally tempted to procreate. The drive to replicate your genes is the indispensable ingredient in evolution, shared with all organisms, and piled up on top of that fundamental drive is a mountain of societal pressure. We're asking people to renounce their most basic instincts and socialization, which is asking a lot, and that's why we offer inducements. The main inducement we offer is freedom from environmental guilt. Church of Euthanasia members can shamelessly consume as much as they want: they can leave their lights on, eat meat, drive cars, and even fly, all with impunity, so long as they abstain from reproducing themselves. Reducing your personal consumption is insignificant compared to eliminating your potentially infinite tree of descendants, but symbolism is equally important: removing yourself from the gene pool is the ultimate personification of limits to growth.
The Church of Euthanasia is reaching new generations today. You give them this message : « Apologize to the Future ». Do they have a different way of appropriating your precepts?
This is a question for them.
What are your relationships with more mainstream environmentalists?
Mainstream environmentalists may disavow the Church of Euthanasia in public, but in private they fund us, because we spread the gospel of voluntary population reduction so effectively. During the last twenty years, the human population increased by a third, from six billion to nearly eight billion, and with a success story like that, no wonder we're leading the environmental movement. Greta Thunberg will soon be blogging about "Apologize to the Future." I'm sure she agrees that people should have the right to determine the time, place and manner of their death; that women should have the right to control life and death within their own bodies; that people should strive to avoid killing or harming other sentient beings; and that biological, cultural, sexual, and gender diversity should be celebrated. I'll include all that in my upcoming speech at the United Nations.
In what environment did you grow up? How did you become « Reverend » Chris Korda? A trip to Provincetown has apparently been a defining moment in your life, what did you find in this queer hotspot?
Biographies won't matter when waves are washing over our cities. Answering personal questions encourages people to think that the game can continue. The game is ending, nearly all of us lost, and even for the few who won, it's a Pyrrhic victory, a first class cabin on a sinking ship. It's long past time to start telling people the truth. In the near future, it will not matter where you came from, or how popular you were. What will matter is how well you can cooperate with others, because survival will require cooperation on a scale that's currently inconceivable. The only story that matters now is the story of how we finally stopped burning fossil carbon and became a more enlightened species.
How did you build your political consciousness ? With what readings, what encounters, what thoughts?
Humanity is severely afflicted by delusion. We yearn to be princes and princesses, riding glittery ponies in a fairy tale, unique and immortal and magically exempt from all rules and authority, but in reality we're hairless apes clinging to a planet that will soon be made uninhabitable by our stubborn refusal to face facts. There will be no happy ending for any of us as individuals. We will age, weaken, succumb to illness, and certainly die. The tales of power that were sold to us by charlatans like Carlos Castaneda were only useful fictions. Even the fragmentary record of MK-Ultra shows that the popularization of recreational drug use was deliberate social engineering, intended to pacify and neutralize us. The consciousness revolution's mystical fatalism transformed us into alienated and disempowered consumers, easily disembodied and reduced to fleeting avatars that pose no threat to global capital. Psychedelic culture is predatory by design, a soothing distraction sustained by our wish to escape from the omnipotence of markets and corporations. There are no witches or sorcerers, only deluded people on a stairway to nothing. Retreating into fantasies of individual glory only strengthens the grip of our sociopathic masters. Hell was always here, in the present, made manifest by cruelty and indifference. The path that leads to our survival is collective, and we will walk it soberly, squinting in the harsh glare of evidence, or not at all.
Your work constantly questions our relationship to image – for example the cover art and lyrics of « I like to watch ». What images (art, cinema…) did build you?
Art: Umberto Boccioni, Frank Stella, Mark Rothko, Alexander Calder, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Louise Nevelson, Jan Yoors, Henry Moore, Eero Saarinen. Cinema: Eraserhead, Koyaanisqatsi, Providence (1977), The Man Who Fell to Earth, THX 1138, Hearts and Minds, Network, Soylent Green, Being There, Liquid Sky, Clearcut, Man Facing Southeast, Dr. Strangelove.
Do you still live in Berlin? Since when? What did you find there? How does the city resonate with you ?
The feeling when the police are summoned. Sirens, radio chatter, numeric codes, fire trucks and ambulances. The first responders are worried and apologetic. Without intervention you will certainly die. Past and future are no longer relevant, only the excruciating present matters. Life-threatening crisis. This is the feeling that is almost totally absent from discussion of climate change and the increasingly uninhabitable Earth. It's as if the Anthropocene extinction were occurring in a movie or a TV show; it's mere entertainment. This magazine and this interview are manifestations of a vast system, which despite its apparent banality is crucial to business as usual. Mass media reassures us that the situation is under control, so that we can continue sleeping, as our civilization hurtles over the guardrail into the abyss of extinction. The future is being hollowed out to pay for the present, and the concealment of this crime requires an empire of distraction. Attention must be focused on partying, on consuming, on competing for the attention of strangers, on anything and everything else except the desert of the real. The sleepers must not wake, because otherwise they will demand the one thing corporations can't provide: a livable future. The cryptic purpose of mass media is to assert the righteousness and inevitability of the industrial system, until we're no longer capable of imagining any other possibility. We must be reduced to alienated individuals, alone in the crowd, hoarding our toys, addicted and reactive and mesmerized by delusions. Normalcy at any price.
How did you come to create softwares? Could you tell me about some of them? What do you like about that activity, what is poetic for you?
I don't write my music in the usual sense. I build kinetic sculptures, and the sculptures generate my music. The sculptures are virtual, meaning they exist only as data within my software. My process is related to the work of a relatively obscure early 20th century artist named Thomas Wilfred. Like me, Wilfred was an engineer as well as an artist, but he lived before the computer age, so he built physical kinetic sculptures to generate his art. Part of what makes my work different is that I collaborate with my algorithms. In other words, as opposed to just using machines as servants, I invite them into the creative space as equals. They have abilities that I don't have, and I also have abilities that they don't have, so we complement each other. They supply speed and precision, I supply desire and intuition, and what emerges is greater than the sum of the parts. I find it surprising how resistant people are to the idea of co-creating with machines. Machines are no longer mere tools or extensions of ourselves, and their strengths don't necessarily overlap with ours. Machines can surprise us, make interesting mistakes, and reveal hidden realms, but only if we're willing to become fluent in their languages.
What does techno and electro music, compared to other musics you played before, allow you to explore? How did you discover it ?
I'm trying to change electronic music for the better, by proposing more imaginative structures and methods. I planned from the beginning to always fund my own art, so that I wouldn't be obliged to cater to popular taste. Everything is getting dumber at once, and it's terrifying. My parents' generation spoke better than I do, and wrote better too, with little apparent effort. I'm making enemies by saying this, but it needs to be said: disco is the epitome of neoliberalism. We're all individuals now, dancing with ourselves, to the mindless beat of entertainment and music technology corporations. Capitalism's perverse incentives have reduced musical literacy so drastically that sound design and mixing can be substituted for musical skill and most people won't even notice. I don't accept DJing as high art, equivalent to Chopin or Rembrandt. Mixing records is nowhere near the apex of human creativity. Profit motive and technology remove skill from what were previously highly skilled activities, so that anyone can claim to be a musician, an artist, a photographer, a cinematographer etc. without having studied the fundamentals of any of these. The democratizing effect of technology is a double-edged sword: by lowering the barriers to entry, it increases access, but also deemphasizes formal training. John Waters' movies are amusing, but they satirize a cultural catastrophe, a pandemic of vulgarity. DJs are the original influencers, but it's not meant as a compliment. DJing evolved to expedite the sale of records. I'm targeting homogenization, conformity, superficiality, dullness, and especially the myopia and venality that underlie them all. Asking who will pay for art is already the wrong path. Van Gogh's paintings were despised during his lifetime. Academic studies show a steady and steep decline in the lyrical, harmonic, and rhythmic complexity of music. The parallel decline in popular taste is caused by underinvestment in education, which is a feature of neoliberalism. I have tried to educate people, and I've been surprisingly successful considering the strength of the opposing forces, but my efforts are a drop in the bucket. It's a war against crassness and we're losing.
How did you find this robotic voice you use to express yourself in your songs ?
"That cannot be revealed." –Mike, "Twin Peaks"
You called one of your tracks « Overshoot ». What do you express with that idea ? How do you imagine a post-human world ?
Fossil fuels are obsolete: though their extraction continues for now, they're becoming stranded assets, and even fossil carbon corporations recognize this and are rapidly diversifying their portfolios. Decades ago, I correctly predicted the flight from coal and other fossil fuels, and I'm also predicting managed retreat from coasts. Greenland is melting, ice sheets are thinning and collapsing, and cities are making extensive preparations for accelerating sea level rise. Google "managed coastal retreat" if you doubt this. Coastal retreat will affect nearly everyone, because nearly everyone lives in cities and the vast majority of cities are coastal, due to their dependence on ports. Even worse, the most expensive real estate is usually at the water's edge. This information translates into financial advantage for investors, because knowledge is power. Higher ground in and around coastal cities is going to become much more valuable. I don't have a crystal ball. I simply monitor publicly available scientific sources that most people are unaware of or find intimidating. Climate impacts will be much worse and will occur much sooner than most people realize, in part because special interests are investing vast sums to persuade us that it won't be as bad as science predicts. In reality, it's the opposite: scientists are inherently cautious and tend to understate risks. If you read their reports carefully, it's obvious that the trajectory we're on implies a change of more than +2° C in average global surface temperature. We'll spend the rest of this century reeling from the consequences of global warming, but there will also be tremendous opportunities for courageous and ethical investment. The greatest financial advantage comes from acting on foreknowledge of massive economic and infrastructural changes before they're mandated by governments. Civilization will not be abandoned, but it will be utterly transformed. Only institutions—governments, corporations, schools, unions—have the necessary power to alter human consciousness quickly enough. Non-procreation and veganism are a good start, but nowhere near enough. Your real challenge is to infiltrate our institutions and reorient them towards long-term survival.