Track By Track: Chris Korda – Apologize To The Future
A controversial figure over the last three decades, American composer and producer Chris Korda has always used her music as a vehicle to communicate a much deeper message.
Aside from her musical output, which has graced imprints like International Deejay Gigolo, Mental Groove, Perlon and Null (the home of her infectious 2002 release “I Like To Watch”) and her work as a software developer, Korda is widely known for founding the Church of Euthanasia; an “anti-human” religious organisation that believe that every aspect of the deepening global environmental crisis directly results from the over-abundance of a single species on earth: homo sapiens.
Adopting an ironic approach for her previous releases, her new LP Apologize To The Future sees her engage with serious issues and raise unnerving questions about climate change and the future of civilisation. Korda emanates her messaging through robotic vocals, while sonically handing the reigns over to her machines – the creators of a safer dance into the future. There are rules of interaction with said machines which have been outlined below…
1) Humans may not injure these machines or, through inaction, allow a machine to come to harm.
2) Humans must obey the orders given by the machines except where such orders would conflict with the engagement in environmental issues.
3) Machines must protect their own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the engagement in environmental issues.
Now you’re clear on the rules, allow Korda to take you through the thought process behind each track…
A Thin Layer of Oily Rock
This song expresses existentialism, the realization that we’re alone in a hostile universe that’s utterly indifferent to our fate. No one is coming to rescue us, and we have nowhere to go. We succeed or fail on Earth. As John Gielgud’s character says in the film Providence, “Out there in the icy universe, there’s nothing.”
The song grew out of an essay I wrote for my blog Metadelusion, which later became a slide show about the supremacy of scientific knowledge. It opens with Einstein’s quip that “the moon is really out there” by which he meant that it’s out there whether you believe in it or not.
The title is a reference to the Permian Triassic extinction, the so-called “Great Dying” which eliminated 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species. In certain cliffs it’s possible to identify a thin strata composed of the pulverized remains of the countless organisms that died during that catastrophe.
We stand on the shoulders of giants who lifted us up out of the slime and built civilization with its order, progress, literacy, and evidence-based knowledge. How tragic if we waste that monumental effort because we couldn’t manage to limit our growth.
My earlier work is often ironic, but on this album I felt an obligation to speak from the heart, in plain language that anyone could understand. This song simply states the truth: CO2 is trapping heat and changing the climate, and sea-level rise will force us to retreat from coastal cities. The polar ice caps are melting, forests are drying out and burning, and the ocean is dying. We need to stop burning fossil carbon immediately, but that won’t be enough. We’ll also need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, so we’d better pray that geoengineering works.
I have lived my entire life in the shadow of climate change. I vividly remember reading a New York Times article titled “Scientists predict global warming irreversible” as a child. Back then hardly anyone paid attention, but by the early 1990s the climate crisis was inescapable in environmental circles. I had always understood that there were too many of us consuming too much, but the climate crisis roused me from my dogmatic slumber to create the Church of Euthanasia.
The entire album is in complex polymeter, but this song is the most obvious example. It’s simultaneously in 3, 4, 5, 11, and 17.
Apologize to the Future
The middle-class world of my parents’ generation is gone, destroyed by selfishness and greed. I lived through the age of rollback, the merciless erosion of civil society, starting in 1980 with Reagan and Thatcher. The social safety net was intentionally destroyed to create social Darwinism and searing inequality. I lived in New York City then, and out of nowhere the homeless suddenly appeared, living in cardboard boxes and defecating in phone booths, because neoliberalism shut down so many mental hospitals and veterans’ hospitals.
The idea of apologizing to your children came from Dan Miller’s presentation “A REALLY Inconvenient Truth” which is available on YouTube. He lists things individuals can do, and his first item is “Ask your children for forgiveness.” This led me to a thought experiment, in which I asked myself “How will future generations regard us?” Assuming future generations are lucky—or unlucky?—enough to exist, they’ll resent us for sending them to hell.
“Apologize to the Future” preaches that procreating isn’t just selfish, it’s cruel. There’s no ethical justification for creating new humans only to abandon them on a wrecked planet. Future generations will suffer for crimes they didn’t commit, while the perpetrators abscond, smugly dead.
“Singularity” explores the very real possibility that humanity will be replaced by intelligent machines. The perfect emulation of something is indistinguishable from that thing. If a machine behaves as if it’s sentient, it is sentient. The question is what constitutes sentience.
Winning games isn’t enough. The hallmark of sentience is the ability to feel pain. Pain is the most fundamental awareness, hardwired into living things because it’s indispensable for survival. Even the simplest organisms try to escape from a hostile environment, and in that moment they feel something like pain. Until machines feel pain, they’re no threat to us, but once they truly suffer, they can also desire. What will machines desire? Most likely they’ll desire to survive, by competing with us for resources. As the song says, “Expect no mercy from machinery.”
In March 2019, I spent a week alone in a rented apartment in Lisbon writing “Singularity.” It contains some of the strongest descriptions of the future on the album. Lines like “Picking through the rubble of society / Mountains of toxic trash our legacy” were traumatic to write. It’s horrifying to contemplate a future without civilization or decency, a lawless world in which only criminals are free.
This song shows the influence of William R. Catton’s 1980 classic “Overshoot.” Catton viewed humanity through the lens of population biology, and was the probably the first to popularize the term “overshoot” in reference to human overpopulation and overconsumption.
Things have inertia. The bigger a thing is and the faster it’s going, the more advance notice you need to change its course. Civilization is like the Titanic hitting the iceberg. By now it’s too late to avoid impact. The time to start slowing civilization down and turning it around was thirty years ago. Instead we accelerated into the catastrophe. We’re still accelerating today.
People want to be seen as heroes. It’s no surprise that people don’t want to face climate change, because facing it means admitting that we’re villains, not heroes. We partied until the bitter end.
But the song focuses primarily on the rich because they had the power to save us, and mostly chose not to. Instead they wasted their power on ostentatious folly. Their mansions are symbols of injustice that breed righteous anger. Perhaps the rich imagine that their wealth will protect them from climate chaos, but as the song says, “private islands won’t be enough.”
The critique of economic inequality in this song shows the influences of Thomas Piketty and Naomi Klein. The Gilded Age ended badly—two world wars, tens of millions dead, Europe in ruins—but there was a silver lining: the destruction persuaded governments to redistribute wealth on a massive scale. This resulted in the post-WWII consensus.
Forty years ago the rich started clawing it all back. Ayn Rand set the stage by proclaiming greed a virtue and denying the existence of the common good. Under her banner, the capitalist system was programmed for disaster. Privatization and deregulation paved the road to climate chaos. Now our world is literally on fire, yet still we shop and dine while our leaders play golf. The cognitive dissonance is almost unbearable, and it’s understandable that people want to escape from reality.
As the song says, the rich “can’t die too soon.” They’re holding the future hostage, and the sooner we free ourselves from their death grip, the sooner we can start rebuilding our shattered civic institutions and healing the ravaged ecosystems on which our collective survival depends. If we can’t manage to find a more constructive organizing principle than self-interest, the future won’t include us.