6EQUJ5/TRANSMISSION : ONE
So, to start talking about this song I first have to ask whether or not you have heard of the show “Ancient Aliens”. If you haven’t and you are interested in the subject matter I am about to talk about, I recommend that you check it out. Ancient Aliens is a show on the History Channel (which is an interesting choice), and it is a thoroughly entertaining program, with both good points and absurd ones, all presented by an eccentric collection of pseudo-scientists and writers, all of which makes their ideas both hilarious and thought provoking. The theory the show postulates, called the "Ancient Astronaut Theory", to simplify and paraphrase, is that the earth was visited in ancient times by extra-terrestrials and our civilizations, technology, and even evolution were influenced (if not directly introduced by) by these visitations. They site examples of architecture, carvings, and structures that are difficult, even by today’s technological standards and accomplishments, to achieve… pyramids, obelisks, statues, all implying a helping hand or borrowed technology from some other-worldly influence. They reference hieroglyphics, paintings, mythologies, legends, prayers and entire religious beliefs that speak of “fiery gods coming from the sky” that could possibly not be talking about anything spiritual or religious in context, but an actual physical decendence to earth by visitors from another part of the universe.
A lot of it parallels many religious and spiritual beliefs held by many around the world. These ideas have been generating for decades and have already found their way into popular thought and culture (see: The X-Files). But this show, Ancient Aliens, really collects them together in a documentary style and presents them in the best logical way they can. Some of the theories are real stretches, most likely a grasping-of-straws to generate more episodes and perpetuate the series. And you may have seen the wild-haired “expert” on the theories in online memes like this one.
Their claim (one among many) is ultimately that these “Ancient Astronauts” even bred with the primates of the era and that this may be the cause of our human evolution. And further on up the timeline, they bequeathed a scientific knowledge and technological concepts to early humans in order for them to further our species, to maintain the earth. And then, mysteriously, they left us…
This is a mystery they don't go into much. They offer very little as to why they left us, or if they are gone for good. Perhaps there is the occasional fly-by observation, or inspection... Or perhaps maybe we are monitored from a distance? But for the most part their current coordinates are unknown and they are presumed absent (besides certain theories that have them "living among us"). But this absence, if we subscribe to the theory, is just as puzzling and question-generating as the origin-theory itself. The same questions may be asked of religious mythologies. Why haven’t they made themselves known? Did they give us these advances in genetics and technology and just leave for us to develop on our own? And to what end for them? Is it the sinister plan to germinate and harvest? Or a benevolent seeding of life, to flourish or destroy ourselves, depending on our ability to use these gifts and establish global harmony where life is sustained? Are they hoping we will rise above our own capacity for self-destruction, and evolve to a level where we can ultimately survive the cataclysmic changes the earth generates through it’s countless eras? In other words, are they waiting to see if we humans, the presumed custodians of this planet, can get our shit together in a major way, before we completely fuck it up beyond repair?
I’m going off a bit, but the questions I just raised are pertinent to the song. As I have mentioned before, I hope to be soon completing a short story (or a collection of stories) that may encapsulate these themes, among others. This collection is intended to be a sort of a companion reader to the songs I have written.
One of the stories so far will include the themes and stories from this album, particularly this song, and Ibiza. It is written from the point of view of a music journalist who is assigned to discover a new band that no one has heard before and make them famous. He stumbles across Fourth World Radio (Yes, I wrote the band, and myself into the story. Deal with it.) and is blessed with the mysterious honor of being allowed to interview the strange and elusive music ensemble/band/provocateurs. To summarize, he is flown down to Miami to meet them on their yacht for this interview. They take him on a long journey out to sea, a long party cruise to the middle of the ocean, where they discuss music, science, art, meta-physics and technology… and in time they reveal to him a new technology they have been developing. It is a transmitter of some sort, a combination of cutting edge human technology and some prehistoric alien technology that they had recently discovered and learned how to use. This transmitter is deigned to send out special radio signals farther and faster than ever imagined, a direct line of communication to our extra-terrestrial ancestors. They claim that it is only one-way communication, at least for the time being. Evidently music is the only language it can transmit. Not words or numbers. Music. And this journey to the oceanic desert that they are on is the maiden voyage in an attempt to use this device, out on the open waters as far from civilization as possible, to try and communicate via music, as they claim to have been "instructed" to do.
And the story goes from there… so without telling too much, giving anything away, or rendering the story unnecessary after reading this, I shall move on…
This song is actually describing this back-story of this tale I am working on. Specifically, it documents the emotional reaction one might have to a discovery of this kind... the device or technology itself, the secrets and science behind this technology, and, more importantly, it's proof of life elsewhere. The scientific breakthrough, the mind-blowing potentials, the answers it would give and the questions it would pose, the intellectual and cultural significance, the world-expanding epiphanies, all leading up to the realization of what it would mean to discover a message left for us, from "them", and this message being an invitation to reach out, "for emergencies only", as it were, and not a moment too soon…. I wanted to capture in these lyrics just what this discovery would mean now, as we homo sapiens, appointed Custodians Of The Earth, seemed to have utterly and completely botched the job, so far on most counts. It's not a stretch to say that the confidence supply that any sane person may have that we might be able to turn it around is depleting savagely by each minute and headline, and hope is diminishing exponentially, while retreating in accelerating velocities. This may be bleak, but I would guess there are many people who would agree, and would also agree that maybe a little outsourced help would be welcome.
The conflict here, are the questions that must be asked, in this era of uncertainty, and when faced with the decision to use this discovery, without knowing the consequences; to call out and ask for help or some sort of revelation that may unify the masses or may be our ultimate destruction. One may have to ask, "What do we have to lose?" And more realistically, is this what it takes to turn things around? Something beyond ourselves, some alien presence, a visit from God, or gods, or some terrifying beast, some common enemy or perspective-shattering vision? Is life not enough or isn't it hard enough as it is, just to live and survive, to just unpack everything once and for all, figure it out and finally fly straight? This song is spoken from someone who has at once lost faith in humanity but gained faith in the universe, a believer that knows we are a flawed species that needs redemption, needs to learn and grow, and hasn't yet developed but really, really wants to now, before we sink the ship for good. Our narrator understands that it would be the right thing to do, that we have no better option, than to call on our "ancestors" or from "outsiders" to show us the way, to accept our position. But the song also tries to offer some guidance. We don't really have a transmitter, or a way out. Why don't we try to do it without it?
The music and it's final form here is the result of a long process of trying to figure out where I wanted this song to go. I had started writing it many years ago. Musically I was inspired by the technique that Jaco Pastorius had invented and perfected of using harmonics underneath "bass" or root notes. The difference here being that I was trying it out on the guitar, not the bass. I constructed and arranged the musical portion of the song this way, a lot of rhythmic playing with these harmonics, and low "bass" notes underneath. I recorded it with a clean electric guitar tone, real crisp, with a bit of delay applied. I put it down over a drum beat that I came up with on the DR-880, which I more or less kept in tact for the recording (with the augmentation of Ultrabeat in Logic, later on). When I first recorded it, I just kind of "let the tape roll" and played the parts naturally, not worrying about length of time. I figured I would edit out a lot of it, but I never ended up doing that. I just kind of built around the recorded structure, using it's uneven part lengths to accentuate or imply an improvised performance, one which would not be concerned with duration. Later I decided to give the extended intro part it's own title, 6EQUJ5, (which is a reference and I will go into that that in a bit).
At some point after recording the guitar, I had an notion to come up with a drone or repeating synth part to add a sci-fi feel. I made something up on the DR-880 once again using it's synth midi-programming function. This is the repeating synth that fades in an out through the song. What is cool is that it relates differently to the different chord changes and rhythmically with different parts of the arrangement. It seemed to have the effect of changing through the parts, even though it's a static line. It's futuristic drone meshed well with the clear crystalline harmonics and guitar rhythms.
At one point I played this song live, a solo performance in a local original music venue to test it out. I was opening up for a friends band and wanting to do something different and original, encouraged by my friends to do my own stuff. So I brought the DR-880 out with me and played along to it, which I know is kinda lame in terms of performance dynamics, but I figured, fuck it, it's lame but at least it's not another cover song. So, this club I was playing at had this new kid working the sound. He was young, a bit weird, and an over-zealous type who was "just okay" at what he was doing but was really trying hard to make the sound and performance as good as possible, despite the lack of experience and the odd performance. Maybe just making his night more interesting, who knows… either way I respected his enthusiasm. Anyway, so here I am, up there with just an electric guitar and this drum-machine synth module, and I start playing, first cuing up the drum beat and slowly fading in this synth line. Then, I start playing along to it. As I am playing this intro, the lights first dim, and then they start going wild. This was a little out of place, since it's just me, this solo guitar act. At first it was maybe even slightly distracting. But I didn't realize at the time that he had read the situation perfectly and had a plan. I'm guessing it was the synth and it's old-sci-fi type of nuances that got him thinking. So maybe a minute into the jam, really working it, this guy, without warning, set's off a fog machine behind me. I mean it was pretty hilarious and maybe even in the running for an official, personal "Spinal Tap Moment". My first internal reaction was, "oh my fucking god- he didn't?" and for a split second it actually annoyed me and almost distracted me enough to fuck up. But I kept it together, and then I saw it, I understood the genius of the move and was instantly grateful and in awe of the change: Now, with the wild lights and and fog, and the synth-crystal music, the pounding drums, and all of this drenched in that fog, I was suddenly not alone, and this was a show! We were watching the space-ships descend in the middle of a laser-tag arena, the aliens slowly emerging from the fog, time suspended. People were really getting into it, and it was probably the most fun I've ever had playing alone on a stage. I ended the song to a great response, and the smoke cleared. I played the rest of my set and when I was finished, my friend and co-worker Roger came up to me and said, (and mind you, he's not the kind of guy to say weird fantastical shit about things, a really reserved critic) "Dude, that song you played, when he smoked you out… damn, I felt like I had traveled time, or in some alien movie… that was pretty cool man." I thanked him but knew it wouldn't have been half the performance if it weren't for the over-the-top actions of the sound-guy who pushed it past ridiculous into transcendence.
Another interesting thing about this repeating synth line: When I was working on this in Logic, I was doing some experimentation with delays, thinking maybe I could add one to the line and make it even spacier. The delays didn't work, but while I was running it through a few pre-programmed delay patterns, I found something real cool. Some of these patterns are really wild and, as in this case, make the sound completely unrecognizable. This one pattern in particular instantly mad this synth line into this wild sound, like some sort of breathing and humming radio static, like modem-language (remember the old dial-up sounds?… like that but more tonal and pulsating. So I ran the synth line through twice, on two separate tracks, one with just the delay, and one with the delay and a pitch-shift an octave up, to give the tone more depth. The effect is so strange, but it haunted me, in a positive way, especially how it sounded like some sort of radio wave or digital communication, and the subject matter being what it was, I felt it fit, both texturally and thematically.
But the real interesting thing about it, is something that I noticed well after the record had been mixed, mastered, produced and distributed:
A few months ago, I was watching the 90’s movie Contact with Jodi Foster and Matthew Matthew McConaughey. I had seen the movie before, years ago, and I really liked it. It definitely had an influence on me regarding the subject of extraterrestrial life, and communication with this life, a subject already firmly embedded in my cultural and thematic hard-drive by many other movies, many from my childhood like Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Fire In The Sky (which was from my high school days, and although it didn’t paint a pretty picture of alien interaction at all, I did see it in the theaters while on acid, and it was a very intense, if a bit unsettling, experience).
So anyhow, I was recently re-viewing Contact, and if you aren’t familiar with them movie, the quick plot synopsis is as follows:
“In this Zemeckis-directed adaptation of the Carl Sagan novel, Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) races to interpret a possible message originating from the Vega star system. Once first contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence is proven, Arroway contends with restrictive National Security Advisor Kitz (James Woods) and religious fanatics bent on containing the implications of such an event. An incredible message is found hidden in the signal, but will Arroway be the one to answer its call?”
A more in depth plot and overall description (plus cast, production, etc.) can be found on it’s Wikipedia page here.
Long story short, Jodi Foster’s character, Dr. Ellie Arroway , is fascinated, maybe obsessed with the discovery of some kind of communication with extra-terrestrial life. She works for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) which is on the verge of being de-funded. Then after years of scanning the skies and radio transmissions, there is a turning point for where all her hard work pays off and she does in fact receive a transmission that comes from an unknown source in outer space. The transmission is decoded and seems to be television transmission bounced back (of Adolf Hitler of all things)… but there is another signal underneath it all, a sound that is ultimately decoded to be the instructions to build a transportation/communication device.
So I realized that I borrowed heavily from this idea for this story I was generating. But that wasn’t what struck me, as I know that the idea I was writing was already borrowed heavily from other sources, a patchwork of many of the movies, mythologies and theories I have already mentioned. That I was aware of. I didn’t really claim for it to be anything profound, just a story I enjoyed maybe with a few twists, but just something I thought would be a cool subject for a song.
But it was the sound that they decoded that really surprised me. When they finally decode the signal, the sound is this pulsating digital drone that sounds very much like the sound I discovered running the synth through the delay in this song. It isn’t exact, but it is so close, I really had to wonder if the memory of this movie was somehow present without me knowing it, and when I heard the sound it struck a chord. Or was it just coincidence? I wasn’t attempting to re-create the sound, that’s for sure, (it had been at least 10 years since I had watched the film) and it was a total serendipitous accident. I am not really trying to make it more than what it is… I guess I talk about it because it really locked it in for me that I had managed to capture the exact thing I was going for in the song and it’s textures, a sort of reverse-engineered concept. It did give me chills though and maybe there’s something a little other-worldly to it. I’ll give myself enough room to let me believe that for just a second at least anyway.
Because that’s where I think any sort of growth and evolution in thought occurs… be it art, music, science… the belief that something out there has maybe just the smallest bit of influence on things, at any point… conception, production, realization, demise… and it doesn’t have to be a God, and Alien, or any sentience outside of our own collective humanity or the clockwork of nature and the complex web of synchronicity. Like the poster in Mulder’s office, “I Want To Believe”.
The intro-title, 6EQUJ5 relates to this. This sequence of numbers is actually a reference to the "Wow" signal. Here's a link if you are interested and want to read more about it, but here is a summary from Wikipedia:
On August 15, 1977, a strong narrowband radio signal was received by Ohio State University's Big Ear radio telescope, in the United States, then assigned to a SETI project. The signal appeared to come from the constellation Sagittarius and bore the expected hallmarks of extraterrestrial origin.
Astronomer Jerry R. Ehman discovered the anomaly a few days later, while reviewing the recorded data. He was so impressed by the result that he circled the reading on the computer printout and wrote the comment Wow! on its side, which is how the event has since been referred to.
The entire signal sequence lasted for the full 72-second window that Big Ear was able to observe it, but has not been detected since, despite several subsequent attempts by Ehman and others.
Various hypotheses on the source of the emission have been put forward. Although the possibility of a natural origin has not been completely discounted, to date the Wow! signal is considered the best candidate for an alien radio transmission ever received.
I guess that this little tiny signal is all we have that might suggest that something is out there. We can talk all day and night about what came before us, about planets in the "goldilocks zone" but this is the only thing that may have come from soeone else out there, at least that is scientifically recorded and not suppressed by the government (not going into that conversation, so put your tin-foil hats away haha!). But this little signal can be a flicker of hope for this idea.
I was always attracted to ideas and subjects like this. As a kid I was obsessed with aliens, ghosts, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster. I did school reports on that shit. Later down the line, when in college, and experimenting with LSD, I began to look inward and experience and learn about concepts of extra-sensory perception and synchronicity from the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and the Grateful Dead, and writings by Terrance McKenna and Carlos Castanada. The Celestine Prophecy. And now, I look outward again, at the earth, under the ground, in the waters, in the skies, at these things we know so little of, these worlds that came before us and left only remnants to examine. In all of these journeys, it is the idea that there is something just a little more than human inside us, around us, and beyond. Maybe something that can offer a little help into our lives, and into our society. Something to open the window a bit and let in the cool breeze of a new perception. I think we humans have become a bit stir crazy. We have minimized our worlds to a computer screen, and forgotten how to travel, to seek. And this has become an illusion of four walls and no exit. I do not want to go so far as to say that humanity needs a common enemy to unite us, to make us put away our differences, although the evidence seems strong in that direction. It doesn’t have to be an enemy. If a new life form (or old one, depending on the timeline’s definition) were to reveal itself, would we go mad, like the Area-51 theorists all conclude, that the government conceals knowledge because we couldn’t handle it? Or would we all maybe look up at the skies and breathe a large sigh of relief, because we no longer have to carry the burden of the modern world, at least the modern world that we have created, by design or default. We could all just give up the ghost, just for a moment, with the benefit of not actually having to do so, and look to the lights in the sky and the lights will warm us and the music will announce their benevolence, and they might reach out to us and tell us that we no longer have to worry, put down your swords and guns and crosses, you will no longer be needing these. We have arrived and we have come to help.