‘Apologize to the Future’: Chris Korda on the crisis facing our planet

 
Music

Last year gave us all a reality check. With the world coming to a complete standstill, each and every one of us were forced to recontextualise our daily lives. Systems and routines were interrupted— ones that, quite frankly, needed upheaval eons ago— and the future of our planet came into harsher focus.

People were finally beginning to see tangible effects from putting the breaks on for just a moment and, gradually, more eyes were being opened to the imminent crisis facing civilisation.

This is undeniably a positive step in the right direction but, at the end of the day, this is nothing new — there are plenty of activists who’ve been shouting at the top of their lungs for decades: producer, DJ and software developer Chris Korda is one of them.

She has dedicated her life to disseminating our need for a collective response to the survival of earth, using everything at her disposal to spread the message far and wide. In 1992 she opened the Church Of Euthanasia, the world’s first anti-human religion, with one commandment at its core: ‘thou shalt not procreate’.

Inevitably, these themes and the Church’s mission have fed heavily into her musical output, and continue to do so today. Her latest album, ‘Apologize To The Future‘, is her most poignant and important record to date, with decades of research and work going into its creation. A haunting, thorough commentary on how our actions will leave future generations in turmoil, it’s a further call to action: if we don’t act now, we’ll continue to contribute to the planet’s inevitable demise.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Chris has recently followed this album with two new records—a reissue of ‘Six Billion Humans Can’t Be Wrong’ under a new title (‘Eight Billion Humans Can’t Be Wrong‘) and ‘Passion For Numbers’—both of which we dissect more in our discussion below. On top of musical feats, Chris speaks honestly about her ongoing research, the work and evolution of the Church, and the part we all have to play in ensuring the planet’s long-term survival.

JZIkWGu

 

Coming out of a year that’s had a huge impact on how we view day-to-day life, what are your biggest personal reflections and takeaways?

The ongoing crisis of global civilization is caused in large part by loss of respect for scientific authority. Individuals increasingly feel entitled to their own facts, and essentially to their own realities, in what amounts to a pandemic of solipsism. Our refusal to face facts is childish and incompatible with our survival. Rapidly accelerating lethal threats—including climate change, overpopulation, overconsumption, plagues and mass extinction—require coherent collective responses, and such responses are inconceivable without widespread agreement that the universe is objectively real, explicable, and predictable.

Solipsism is similar to religiosity in that both argue from ignorance and erroneously conclude that reality is fundamentally unknowable, but the history of science demonstrates the opposite conclusion: that with time and effort, we can overcome the limitations of our senses, form increasingly predictive explanations of phenomena, and gain comprehensive knowledge of the universe and its laws. Perhaps magical thinking served a useful purpose in our prehistoric past, cushioning us from the traumas of an unpredictable and brutally violent existence, but however adaptive it may have been, it’s clearly counterproductive now, with nearly eight billion humans wielding immense technological power.

As Peter D. Ward writes in “The Flooded Earth,” we needn’t worry about escaping to exoplanets, because we’ll be too busy moving our airports, and he’s assuming a relatively optimistic scenario. There are plenty of scenarios—such as melting the permafrost and incinerating the rain forests—in which runaway positive feedback starts and it no longer matters whether we come to our senses. The environment is quite capable of releasing vastly more CO2 than all of humanity’s activities combined and has done so in the past. Our only hope for long-term survival is to put away childish things and devote ourselves to keeping earth habitable. That’s reality.

 

To give readers a bit of background, you started the Church of Euthanasia—the world’s only anti-human religion—back in 1992. As more people have become attuned to the environmental crisis facing the planet, have you begun to see a shift in the attitude toward the Church, and if so when did you first notice the change?

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 optional.

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, biological and cultural diversity, should be embraced.

 

The human population has increased by a third since the Church of Euthanasia was founded. However during that same period, many developed countries have achieved zero or even negative population growth, and awareness of climate change has greatly increased. In the 21st century, young people are definitely getting the message that their future is on the line. Their righteous outrage needs to be transmuted into constructive action, primarily non-procreation, but also veganism, reduced consumption, environmental education, and ecosystem restoration. The Church of Euthanasia will continue to become more relevant as the climate crisis intensifies, because we were right all along, and because our solution works. The human population will ultimately be reduced, the only question is how humanely. We haven’t lost, we just haven’t won yet.

Your work with the Church has definitely taken on new relevance in the 21st century. Have you seen an increase in the number of young people joining the church?

Yes. My favorite example is Jardin AKA Cardinal Leny. Go watch Jardin’s excellent video Débordement (Overflow) and you’ll see what it takes to become a cardinal. Hint: don’t wait around for someone else to start something. Jardin organized the Brussels chapter of the Church of Euthanasia, and invited me to its opening in May 2019. In the video, notice the care that went into the huge black and white “One World, One Shit” banner hanging on the side of the Atlas Brewery, and the intensity and diversity of the participants. Jardin’s handle “with no future, everything is possible” captures the zeitgeist. Young people have nothing to lose and they know it. They will inherit a wrecked planet, but as Jardin sings in the video “We carry hope / Up to the stars.”

 

Has the Church’s message evolved since it started?

Imagine falling asleep behind the wheel of a car. Before a certain point, you could wake up and maybe avoid an accident altogether, or at least make it less violent by slowing down. But after that point, you didn’t wake up soon enough. The car is hurtling over the guardrail, and braking is irrelevant. You will hit something, there will be a wreck, and you and maybe others are going to get hurt or die. That’s our situation now: People are already hurt and dying because of climate change. It’s just mostly occurring in poor countries that are all too easily ignored. Catastrophe is no longer hypothetical; it’s already underway in the equatorial region, and spilling outward rapidly. Will we continue to accelerate into the catastrophe? Until the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere decreases, the answer is yes.

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. The Apologize to the Future album is direct and heartfelt because there’s no time left for any approach other than speaking the truth.

Has the evolution in technology helped you to share your message and expand your reach?

Definitely. I enthusiastically adopted performance art, electronic music, video, radio, TV, publishing, merchandising, email, web sites, and digital art, more or less in that order. As the internet becomes more mainstream and constrained, I expect other media will emerge, and I look forward to adopting them too.

What does music offer you, as a vehicle for your message, that other mediums don’t?

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 while this was certainly a setback for songwriting, 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 procreation and consumption decisions will have the most impact, but also because hip-hop is the frontier of lyricism. Climate change hip-hop for the win, hence Apologize to the Future.

Does the Church’s message always feed into your musical output or do you also work on other musical projects? If yes to the latter, how does the production process differ?

Not always. I’ve been playing piano and guitar since I was a teenager, and I was already making electronic music when the Church of Euthanasia started. One big production difference is that I usually write the lyrics first, sometimes months before I write the music. My instrumental projects cover a wider range of styles, including environmental, sound collage, choral, jazz and neoclassical. Lately I’ve been focusing on traditional acoustic instruments, particularly solo piano and strings, because they reproduce tense tonalities more faithfully compared to synthetic timbres.

Decades of work went into your last album, ‘Apologize to the Future’. What was the reaction like to the release?

Given that it’s arguably the first album entirely about climate change, economic inequality, intergenerational injustice, antinatalism, and human extinction, told from the point of view of future generations, it hasn’t yet reached its full potential. I hope the album and its videos (Overshoot and Apologize to the Future) become more widely known and help us change course before it’s too late.

Inevitably the album process, and the research that went into it, was very emotionally taxing. How do you look after your mental health when you’re doing this work? What helps you to recover?

Apologize to the Future was a particularly tough album to write. I spent many years doing research for it. The first song “A Thin Layer of Oily Rock” started as a blog post and then a slide show. The actual writing took about a year. I isolated myself for long periods, to obtain sufficient internal coherence to translate my ideas into rhymes. I’m still recovering so I’m in no position to give advice, but sometimes I binge-watch TV to unwind. My all-time favorite show is Humans.

You’re keeping your foot on the gas with another two releases. One is a reissue of your International Deejay Gigolo Records release from ‘99, ‘Six Billion Humans Can’t Be Wrong’, under a revised title, ‘Eight Billion Humans Can’t Be Wrong’. What’s the significance of reissuing this release right now with the new title?

The population was nearly six billion in 1999, and it’s nearly eight billion now, so an updated title seemed appropriate. The re-release includes more tracks, and more photos too. It also includes the original ultra-militant cannibal anthem “Fleshdance,” which was previously omitted despite my strenuous objections. It’s released by Mental Groove in collaboration with Diggers Factory, and the official release date is March 12, though it’s already mostly sold out so hurry.

And what’s the story behind the other release?

Passion for Numbers is the sequel to my Polymeter album, which came out last year on Mental Groove. Like its predecessor, it consists entirely of instrumentals in complex polymeter, all solo piano in this case. The style is hard to categorize but it’s somewhere between neoclassical and jazz, with a strong influence from stride piano. There’s a succession from “Fazo Kanto” to “Atunwi” to “Overshoot” to Passion for Numbers. It’s the evolution of my approach to unconventional harmony.

Not a question simply based on the fact that the release is called ‘Passion for Numbers’, but something I’m curious about from listening to the sequencing in your music. Do you have an interest or background in mathematics? My father was experimenting with electronic composition back in the late 60s and his pursuits were at times shaped by a deep love of numbers — something that later became his full time vocation.

I had a 35-year career in software, eventually specializing in communication protocols, system architecture, and parallel processing. I spent eighteen years developing software and firmware for 3D printers, and since 3D and robotics are both math-intensive I learned a lot of math on the job, but mostly I had an excellent mentor: Pastor Kim, polymath and co-founder of the Church of Euthanasia. I have many free and open-source projects, and one of them is ChordEase, which is a new type of software-based virtual instrument that makes it much easier to improvise over jazz chords. More recently I developed a software called PotterDraw for designing virtual pottery and hyperobjects, and that one was pretty hairy math-wise.

My current project is the Polymeter MIDI sequencer. I developed a rudimentary form of it in the mid-90s, but I started modernizing it in 2018 while writing Akoko Ajeji. The sequencer and the album evolved together and influenced each other’s development. The current incarnation has many previously unimagined degrees of freedom, and is increasingly geared towards using polymeter to generate harmony. I’ve used math to make music since personal computers became widespread, but I’ve gradually become more deliberate about it. Since 2018 I’ve been using my own sequencer exclusively. I don’t write my compositions in any normal sense of the word. Instead I construct virtual kinetic sculptures that output music. My work is permutational and analogous to Thomas Wilfred’s, though he used light rather than sound.

‘Apologize to the Future’ was written in polymeter. In what ways has using polymeter helped you to better communicate your message?

Polymeter has completely revolutionized my approach to rhythm, and this makes my music stand out even if the listener is unaware of the technique. Odd time also creates opportunities for lyrics to be phrased in unusual patterns. I’m strongly influenced by the use of odd time in rock music during my formative years. Odd time is rare in hip-hop and rap, but based on my experience it’s worth exploring further, because it encourages rhythmic innovation.

You’ve said that you love investing time in learning new things; polymeter being one of them, you’ve mentioned atonal harmony before too. What skill or technique would you like to develop next?

People have been asking me to write a book for years. I’d like to oblige but unfortunately I write at an agonizingly slow pace. I need to learn to organize my ideas more clearly beforehand, so that I can stay in the flow without getting sidetracked into editing.

Looking to the future, what sustainable changes would you like to see within the music industry?

I would like society to value music enough so that musicians can survive by making music. In the era of digital distribution, music is increasingly grotesquely undervalued. Bandcamp is currently the best deal on offer, but it doesn’t provide a livable income for most artists. What Spotify and its competitors offer is little more than an insult, and the situation continues to deteriorate. Platforms such as YouTube and SoundCloud hasten the race to the bottom, by creating an expectation that music should be free. Even more ominously, they normalize the blatant violation of intellectual property law. Much of YouTube’s content violates someone’s copyright or license, but most artists lack the financial and legal resources to defend their rights.

The notion that musicians should give away their compositions and try to support themselves by playing shows and selling merchandise is exactly backwards. If we can’t manage to reward musical skill, don’t be surprised when there isn’t any music worth listening to.

Complex polymeter is new territory, and I’ve tried to jump-start the systematic exploration of it by making my tools freely available. I hope dance music producers will take advantage of that and join the polymeter revolution, because that disco backbeat is played out. I would also like to see a return to lyricism and harmonic complexity, and I’ve tried to contribute to that too.

What’s next for Chris Korda and The Church of Euthanasia?

Hopefully we’ll manage to rapidly remove the excess CO2 from the atmosphere and stop procreating and consuming so much, in which case I will gladly spend my remaining years composing and writing my memoirs. But if not, the Church of Euthanasia will continue to slog through hell and high water. From the coast we must retreat.


Follow Chris Korda and The Church of Euthanasia.