Imagination & Technology: Justin Robertson Talks


An hour and twenty minutes ago I interviewed Justin Robertson over the phone. We talked about the new soundtrack he’s just written for his forthcoming art show – a show examining the shifting nature of humanity in the digital age.

An hour and five minutes ago I sat down to transcribe our conversation. An hour, four minutes and fifty three seconds ago  I discovered my phone had unfathomably wiped half of its memory – including said conversation. Gahh!

I’m going to assume this is an early sign of a future of machine recalcitrance, a petty skirmish to telegraph the coming war between us and the chipped. But I’m not worried. The phone may have tried to do it’s best to scupper our chat, but it made a basic computer error; I’m a human. Ha! I don’t need the restricted reportage of recorded conversation! I have the power of memory! I have the power of imagination!

So, here’s the deal, I’m going to remember the conversation we had, and fill in the bits I can’t remember too well with what I think Justin probably said. In the gaps between what I remember he said, and what I imagine I remember he said, well, something new may well be created. One-nil to humanity.

So here I am, picture me on the phone, wandering round the ever-scaffolded streets of Shoreditch. I’m asking Justin about this new composition. It’s just off 27 minutes long he tells me, a soundscape, that has these moments that “sounds like lots of little adventures going on.” How much do you visualise actual stories to go along with his music? I want to know. His reply surprises me. Not content with wearing the various hats of DJ, producer and painter, Robertson is turning his hand to knocking out a vaguely dystopian novel of speculative fiction. “It’s set in a near future world where people have lost their imagination,” he says. “They’re surrounded by such a vast, accessible body of past culture and knowledge that they feel like they know everything. As such their imagination has disappeared.”

 “Fancy.” I reply. “I can’t imagine such a thing.”

 “Ha, well, yes, I guess you could say it’s not that far from now.” He tells me some more about the future he’s writing, a place where technology has placed more and more distance between humanity and a sense of the spiritual, and how his characters see themselves as separate from the universe rather than part of it. In his story his protagonist finds himself exploring an old science museum. Inside this museum is a tale of an adventurous journey made into space, many years ago. When our imagination-less future hero reads this story, packed as it is with illicit themes of exploration and the sheer thrill of not knowing, he realises that so much of what he has taken for immutable fact is- in fact- mere conjuncture. His world, so long deadened with precision and rationalisation, opens out once more as a bauble of mysteries.  I guess it’s an optimistic story then.

So now there’s a soundtrack to go with the paintings and book, a soundtrack that will play at the exhibition starting tonight. In my mind, when I think of sci fi soundtracks, I think of the 70s, I say.  Justin concedes that his has at least some hints of Tangerine Dream, “but made in the modern style. I’m not a big one for messing with stacks of classic analogue synths. Although,” he laughs, “it’s inevitable it looks back a little bit. When you’re a producer at the age of 48 you can’t help but have more past than future”

“Jesus, that’s bleak” I say, all too aware of my own birthday last week, and the years pissing off over the hills. “No, no, I’ve kept it full!” He’s got a point. He’s currently knocking out a book, an art show and a new mini album. The bastard. I keep walking and ask him how to get hold of the new track. It’s only available at the show, he tells me. “We’ve put together a package with a poster, a book of art from the show, interspersed it with some text from the novel, and added a download code for the soundtrack. There are only 150 of them getting made, and they’re not on sale anywhere else.” Sounds good to me.

So that’s pretty much how it went. The show is taking place in Red Gallery, Shoreditch. It’s starting this evening (June 15th) and running through till June 17th. We’re going to be down tomorrow night – Ransom Note are helping put together some talks on the battle & harmony between imagination and technology and it will be the very best and only place to get the new soundtrack. And when you go you’ll get to see exactly where I’ve remembered all of this entirely wrong.

Info and tickets here:

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