Track By Track: Various Artists – Utopia or Oblivion
‘Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment. Humanity is in a final exam as to whether or not it might qualify for continuance in the Universe.’ – R. Buckminster Fuller
‘Utopia or Oblivion’ is a new compilation inspired by the influential inventor, philosopher, and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller, an extraordinary figure acknowledged for his groundbreaking ideas in the fields of science, design, and architecture. A contemporary of John Cage and Isamu Noguchi, who spent some time with Cage at the famous Black Mountain college, Fuller arguably deserves just as much recognition.
Considered an eminently perceptive thinker who addressed many of the existential challenges facing the modern world, Fuller is perhaps best known for popularizing the use of Geodesic domes, robust space-age structures often built for expos and museums, and now adapted for all manner of disparate purposes; homes, greenhouses, even public art.
Yet, as with many pioneering figures of note who merit investigation, there’s much more to Fuller than his most well-known discovery, as indicated by an extensive body of books, essays and miscellaneous writings that elucidated his ideas, many of which now seem like prescient warnings, as well as innovative ways for moving forward, against the tide of anthropogenic precarity that currently seems to dictate human existence. In many ways, his work could be seen as a guide to preventing extinction. To paraphrase John Berger; ways of seeing, past political machinations, past the news cycle and the doom scroll, towards an enlightened perspective which embraces the future, harnessing latent human and technological potential.
Sheffield-born, London-based composer and self-confessed Fuller fanatic Adrian Corker runs the affiliated labels SN Variations and Constructive, home to releases by Lucy Railton, Kit Downes, Oliver Leith, his own soundtrack for the third series of Tin Star (featuring contributions from Chris Watson no less), the soundtrack for the film ‘Surge’ by Tujiko Noriko & Paul Davies and many more artists and projects. Corker is responsible for curating the ‘Utopia or Oblivion’ compilation, and originally presented the artists involved with an expansive brief predicated on their responses to Fuller’s corresponding essay collection (also named ‘Utopia or Oblivion’).
The artists who contributed include Corker himself, Japanese artist Tujiko Noriko (Editions Mego, PAN, Room40), German artist & co-founder of To Rococo Rot, Robert Lippok, Lancashire-born artist Richard Skelton, British sound artist David Prior, Bafta-nominated composer Adam Janota Bzowski as well as Peruvian experimental musician Ale Hop, Italian producer Silvia Kastel (Blackest Ever Black, Palto Flats, Youth), London-based experimentalist No Home and even one of R. Buckminster Fuller’s descendants; Corey Fuller (in collaboration with Skelton).
Their responses vary, from creaking, abrasive experiments in sound art (David Prior, Ale Hop) to exquisitely rendered, free-floating ambient / environmental music (Tujiko Noriko, Silvia Kastel) to rich canvases of drone and indeterminate electronics (Adrian Corker, Richard Skelton & Corey Fuller). It’s a phenomenal collection of source specific sound creation which feels vigorous and pertinent, made for the trials of the present and the prospects of the future.
Additionally, Corker has conceived the project not only as a physical release, with colour vinyl, limited edition prints and T-shirts (optimists are catered for with ‘Utopia’ lettering and pessimists with ‘Oblivion’ lettering), but as an ambitious multi-disciplinary project encompassing related essays, articles, artworks & resources by renowned artists & writers, all of which will be published on a dedicated website. An adventurous approach to contextualizing the sound and music he’s compiled, as well as the important ideas and theories of Fuller.
Here, he details the backstory of his encounters with Fuller and his motivation for putting together the compilation, before we dive into a track-by-track guide to the compilation itself, provided by Corker and most of the contributing artists. If the fate of humanity is preying on your mind – and let’s be honest, one look at the news will make this all but inevitable – then this is the ideal soundtrack.
‘I have been fascinated with Fuller for quite a while, like many people, and this compilation began with an idea last year of how we are starting a period of global, seismic change. Fuller foresaw some of this in the 1960s but his belief in the possibility of a better future is at odds with our current preoccupation with nostalgia in the arts and a certain pessimistic outlook for what might be ahead, particularly with the climate crisis and economic, political instability.
This album is an attempt to generate a little dialogue in some of our siloed, social media driven culture. There will also be commissioned articles and other art, the first of which is generative art by Hasaqui Yamanobe, which you can see at the ‘Utopia or Oblivion’ website’ – Adrian Corker
'This album is an attempt to generate a little dialogue in some of our siloed, social media driven culture.'
‘How Would I Be? What Would I Do?’ by Robert Lippok
‘I grew up in Berlin surrounded by post-war modern and post-modern buildings that were strongly influenced by the ideas of the Bauhaus. I was looking for a way to think about cities in a different, more radical and playful way. What fascinated me most about Buckminster Fuller was, on the one hand, this playfulness of his designs and, on the other, his insistence on the responsibility of each individual for our planet.
‘If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do… HOW WOULD I BE? WHAT WOULD I DO?’ [R. Buckminster Fuller quote].
The current problems are very complex, but that should not stop us from questioning our actions and changing them if necessary. The track itself is a reflection on Fuller’s way of combining structural elements with the surrounding landscape. A Utopia not Oblivion.’ – Robert Lippok
”Plans’ is sonically based on the visual idea of the geodesic domes popularised by Fuller. It’s basically a dedication to the utopian and futuristic shape which was seen to be the everyday shape of the future which is used in utilitarian ways today.’ – No Home
‘Thinking Out Loud’ by David Prior
‘Fuller was fascinated by language and recognised the influence it had on our ability to think. Referring to his own speech as ‘thinking out loud’, he proposed numerous changes. Accordingly, he proposed replacing sunrise and sunset with ‘sunsight’ and ‘sunclipse’, upstairs and downstairs with ‘outstairs’ and ‘instairs’, and so on. ‘Thinking Out Loud’ brings the macro-scale of Fuller’s thinking about the relationship between the earth and universe it sits within, into a micro-scale relief. Based on the sounds of tiny objects bouncing off resonant surfaces, the piece is all about gravity, of eschewing words altogether to express the phenomena in sonic form.’ – David Prior
‘I tend to try to end my creations with something like hope or warmth, so I made the end of this song with a warm feeling. For reference, the following is my English translation using ChatGPT of the lyrics that I sing in the song:
“Without knowing whose children we are / We slip down the slide / I wish we could always stay as children / World, just don’t let us go, embrace us / Without knowing whose children we are / We’re falling apart / World, don’t let us go, embrace us”‘ – Tujiko Noriko
‘Tensegrity Rhythms’ by Ale Hop
‘For this track, I departed from Buckminster Fuller’s concept of Tensegrity (‘tension + integrity’), which refers to a structural principle based on the use of continuous tension and discontinuous compression elements in a self-stabilizing system. I then thought of playing with the compression and expansion of time, manipulating the bpm of the track with modulation. Afterwards, additional instrumentation (guitar and electronics) was recorded to create an ambience.’ – Ale Hop
‘Drawing a Circle to Step Out Again’ by Adrian Corker
‘This is a track in three parts that starts with loops cut onto acetate made from slowed down violin sounds. There is a tension between the mechanical and non-mechanical, human gesture that evolves into something more loose and organic. By the third section the interplay of strings and field recordings dominates and whilst maybe not utopian suggest a progression of sorts.’ – Adrian Corker
‘Samael’ by Adam Janota Bzowski
‘When asked to think about the future, I immediately think of the past. Before ‘Where will we go?’ one must consider ‘where have we been?’. I sought to generate small, simple piano loops that slowly develop, overlapping each other, erasing and burying what came before; its entropy revealing the oblivion.’ – Adam Janota Bzowski
‘Forme Impercettibili’ by Silvia Kastel
‘The title translates as ‘imperceptible forms’. Together with the other short Italian phrases across the track, it’s extrapolated from Fuller’s collection of essays that the compilation is inspired by. I recorded the voice through a binaural microphone. The music intentionally revolves around a hesitant motif without full resolution.’ – Silvia Kastel
‘Embrace Fiercely the Burning World’ by Richard Skelton & Corey Fuller
‘Last summer, when Richard and I were invited to contribute a track to ‘Utopia or Oblivion’, I was immersed in the writings of Barry Lopez. I sensed a deep affinity between his and Bucky’s ideas which are fiercely hopeful while being unflinchingly attendant to both the beauty and terror of this world. The provenance of the title of our track is an essay by Lopez in which he writes “in this moment, is it still possible to face the gathering darkness and say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures, including ourselves, fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world?”.
Coupled with the lines from ‘Critical Path’ as to whether humanity was on a path toward Utopia or Oblivion, and sung as to become a mantra of sorts, these words provided Richard and I with our own pathway into exploring this tension at the interstices of hope and despair.’ – Corey Fuller
‘Utopia or Oblivion’ is out 14th April 2023 via Constructive. Listen to the compilation and check out the special editions and additional merch created for the project HERE.
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