- Introduction to the Issue
- Nietzsche was a DJ
- DJ Spooky Interview
- Common Sounds
- inter.Virtual.Vitalism. views: Aural Encounters
- How Music Speaks: In the Background, In the Remix, In the City
- Writing Without Sound: Language Politics in Closed Captioning
- 'Digimortal': Sound in a World of Posthumanity
- Thinking Across the Neck: Playing Slide with Fret/work Blues
- An Autoethnography of Sound: Local Music Culture in Colorado
- Inquiry as Telos
- A New Composition, a 21st Century Pedagogy, and the Rhetoric of Music
- Remixing the Personal Narrative Essay: “The Hardest and the Best Thing I Have Ever Done”
- Auralacy: From Plato to Podcasting and Back, Again
- Digital Lyrical
- Contributors' Notes
'Digimortal': Sound in a World of Posthumanity
Byron Hawk and Christian Smith
The oeuvre that Fear Factory has developed over its 20+ year career has been one of hybridity—lyrically focusing on a world that is increasingly integrating humans and machines, musically focusing on various forms of genre experimentation and synthesis. In this spirit of splicing, our project seeks to experiment with mixing a variety of genres: a traditional album review or music criticism; "voiceover commentary" on a movie/DVD where the director or lead actor talks about a film while viewing scenes; Continuum books’ 33 1/3 series that focuses on a single influential album through experimental approaches from personal to historical to fictional; Gregory Ulmer’s genre “mystory” that seeks to produce intertextual connections between the personal, historical, disciplinary, and cultural enactments of hybrid subjectivity; and the traditional academic and popular genre of the interview. While all these genres might not show up explicitly, they were all there in our conception and enaction of the project and continue to operate at an “inaudible” (Douglas Kahn) or “virtual” (Gilles Deleuze) level.
The complexity of this theoretical approach is balanced by the simplicity of the project. Christian “interviews” Byron in audio as each track from Fear Factory’s 2001 album Digimortal plays in the background, generating a remixed track. The discussion sometimes points directly at the music as the voiceover commentary for a film; sometimes wanders into the format of a trade publication review; at other times drifts into personal connections to the music or biographical history; at other times waxes self-consciously academic, reflecting on everything from sound to posthumanism.
Digimortal Album Cover
What Will Become?
Invisible Wounds (Dark Bodies)
Acres of Skin
Back the Fuck Up
(Memory Imprints) Never End
1. "What Will Become?" – 3:24
Smith: So, I’m here today with Byron Hawk and we are going to be discussing one of his favorite all-time records, would that be fair to say?
Smith: Fear Factory’s Digimortal from 2001. A really interesting record in a lot of different ways. I wanted to ask you; what do you make of the question that opens the record: “What will we be? What will become?”
Hawk: Well Fear Factory has been working on this problematic pretty much for most of its twenty year or so career—the whole issue of the relationship between technology and humanity. And they’ve been working on this theme with their lyrics, through their music, the way they incorporate technology and hybridity in their music, all folds into this issue of hybridity of humans and technology. I’ve been thinking about the question in terms of Rosi Braidotti’s book Transpositions. She argues that contemporary technologically driven capitalist society has been operating on a paradox between a capitalist desire for individual choice and the tailoring of products and services to individuals, whether you are talking about Pandora and Last.fm and tailorizing radio to individuals to the ability to tailorize other kinds of products. Amazon has the ability to tailorize book recommendations to you etc. etc. Contemporary society also has a counter drive against this sort of individually driven capitalists society. Whether it’s Islamic fundamentalism or Christian fundamentalism, here in the United States, there is this desire to go back to traditional values, community values, that will put up resistance to this notion of capital. Braidotti’s answer to this paradox or problematic is a Deleuzian sense of becoming, but I don’t think—certainly with this opening song of the album—Fear Factory has answered this question yet. They are opening the record with the opening question “what will become?” and they are not posing an answer to that, in the lyrics they say, “cut in cut out the face man, cut in cut out the face of . . . ” we don’t know what. We don’t what that next evolution of man will be in relation to this evolution of technology, and that sets up the record to toggle back and forth between songs that really talk about human resistance and songs that accept technological hybridity. So, what will become? We don’t know.
2. "Damaged" – 3:03
Smith: So, in the style and spirit of the 33 1/3 book series, you’ve decided to anchor our discussion here today on one particular record. I wanted to ask, why Digimortal? As opposed to 1995’s Demanufacture, or ‘98’s Obsolete—by all accounts much more critically acclaimed than Digimortal—so why this record?
Hawk: Well, I saw Fear Factory back in ‘93 with my then new girlfriend and now wife at a dive bar (called Mongos) which is on the border of Grand Prairie, Texas, and Arlington, Texas. Grand Prairie was in Dallas County, and was dry, Arlington was in Tarrant County, and was wet, and there was this this little strip where Grand Prairie, the town, folded over into Tarrant County and that’s were all these crummy dive bars are. And my wife wanted to go see Obituary, which was one of her favorite death metal bands, and I kind of went along for the ride. But Fear Factory was opening up for them and I came away from the show really liking Fear Factory. At this early stage, it was right after I think their first record came out, they were already starting to combine speed and death metal with industrial sounds. Their keyboard player at the time didn’t play much in terms of melodies and things like that, but added a lot of color and sound layered in with the fast, in-your-face riffs. The song “Damaged,” for me on Digimortal still carries some of that early just really heavy style. At this early point, though, I would say they were one of the first bands to really cross over metal and industrial. The factory in their name and the dark metallic industrial sounds from the sampler mostly carried percussive force and created an ambient soundscape in their music. Post-internet in the mid-90s the band started moving toward incorporation of electronica and techno sounds—more digital than industrial. This was fitting for the historical moment, it think, but also for the evolution of musical genre at the time, and the logic of what the band is after—the increasing interrelationship between humans and machines. Fear Factory fans tended to pan Digimortal as an album, and in some circles, Fear Factory was really crucified for the record. And I think this is totally unfair. Death metal fans really wanted the old sort of straight ahead analog style, but Digimortal really has a good balance of the digital and the acoustic which mimics the human and the technological in the theme that the band had been working on.
3. "Digimortal" – 3:04
Smith: A lot of artists release concept albums, but Fear Factory are, in many ways—and even self-consciously so—a concept band. Beginning with Demanufacture, we see this storyline begin to develop—that of a war between man versus “the machine” and then with Obsolete Burton Bell, the lead singer, actually incorporates the record lyrics into a short story called “Conception 5.” The short story ends with the human hero defeated at the hands of “the machine” that accompanies the refrain of the record: “man has become obsolete.” How do you see Digimortal as an extension of Fear Factory’s storyline and as a providing some kind of response to man’s obsolescence?
If Obsolete is about the obsolescence of humans, Digimortal is about their hybridity. The lyrics for this song "Digimortal" always remind me of tenure for some reason. The “death of innocence” in general pertains to education for me—the general enlightenment goal of demystification. “A predator feeding on its creation” – Now that’s academia for me, right?
“One step closer, one step closer, one step closer, to my fate” always reminds me of the grind of striving for tenure. Getting through grad school, getting the first job, moving, the second job, getting the book done, getting tenure, the third job, all just little steps toward death, toward the death of humanity. Not very affirmative, a bit too Freudian or Heideggerian probably, but that always seems to be the mood of the song for me. And that Heideggerian mood and attitude toward industrial or digital technology is what we get in Fear Factory’s sort of overall narrative as a band. “Must not surrender god to anyone,” I love that line, it always reminds me of the way academics are forced to defend their work, never surrendering their own gods once the old mythical ones are stripped away. I’ve always hated that forced, agonistic stance, which functions less so in rhet comp than in English departments generally maybe, or certainly philosophy. I have a list of quotes on my homepage about academia or philosophy being both serious and not so serious. The not so serious gets short-changed in the death drive for the vita line. “As I witness my own degeneration” seems clear enough. On top of the academic grind I commuted on 95 in DC for almost 10 years and really just watched my physical and mental health degenerate. Years of my life I won’t get back, I’m telling you—for me academia is this predator that feeds on its own creation. But humans are not absent in this story; they are incorporated into systems [into the institutional systems of the university, the technical and administrative systems of interstate highways, the petroleum industry, and the automobile industry].
4. "No One" – 3:37
Smith: The drums that open this track are very mechanical in their precision. I almost can’t tell whether it is a human drummer or a drum machine. Elsewhere on the record Burton Bell’s voice is stuttered digitally and in many ways this seems to contradict the lyrics of this track in particular, that of human resistance to the influence of technology. Do you see a contradiction or tension here between the lyrics and the musical style?
Hawk: Well, I don’t think so. In Theodore Gracyk’s book Rhythm and Noise, he starts out by saying that rock music is neither a style nor a genre, it’s a tradition that centers around recording technologies. So, you don’t have rock music if you don’t have electric guitar or if you don’t have PA systems. So, there is already, at the beginning of rock, there is this connection between humans and technology. This is really tied into Benjamin’s notion of mechanical reproduction. Victor Vitanza wrote a review of Gracyk’s book a few years back and he says yes rock is this tradition that has this center, but it’s also something that is a becoming. Vitanza talks about it and he interprets Gracyk as talking about rock music as always a becoming-rock. And there is something about the fact that this tension between man and machine are two different poles that drive this emergence, that drive this becoming-rock of the music, of the genre. What Vitanza terms as perpetually deterritorializing what rock will have become. Vitanza’s book review really ties into Braidotti for me and the opening question of the record—what will become? It’s not just talking about what humans will become, it’s talking about what will the genre of rock’n’roll become. There is this perpetual emergence and transformation of music that goes along with this relationship to technology. The genre of rock, both in the sense of human and technology but also in the sense of coming from blues and coming from country say in its original origins as a genre, has always been hybrid. It’s always been emergent and changing. And I think this is really fitting within sort of the logic of the record itself.
Smith: Yeah, I really like production on this track.
Hawk: Yeah, Rhys Fulber of industrial originators, Frontline Assembly, produced the record and played keyboards on it and also on their tour. Frontline Assembly’s Flavor of the Weak is one of my favorite electronica albums in part because of the way it utilizes samples. One of the things that Fulber does is he will take a full vocal sample and you will get a bit of it here and then a little bit more of it the next time it comes up to increase these sort of unfolding plateaus of tension [and emergence].
Hawk: Man, that intro riff is just so heavy and has such groove and such force.
Smith: Yeah, but it’s the same sort of groove that is indicative of nü-metal and what made nü-metal both popular and problematic for a metal audience. I mean, it’s sort of one of the reasons why this record gets dismissed by all the critics because they say it’s “industrial tinged nü-metal.” Do you think this nü-metal label is a fair characterization of this record?
Hawk: Well, I mean, there are different definitions of heaviness for different styles of music, for different genres of metal. Heaviness in speed metal, or death metal, is based on fastness and on incomprehensibility of your vocals. The faster you are, the harder your vocals are to understand, the heavier you are. Doom metal, on the other hand, it really bases power on a slower, more unified instrumentation where all the instruments are playing the same thing to create this wall of sound with clear vocals, but more emotionally intense vocals. Nü-metal defines heaviness, however, on groove and on being able to move bodies in the pit. And the vocals often mix the two vocal styles of death and doom metal. And I think that it’s sort of unfair to say this isn’t heavy. Typically subcultures will be built on definition via negation. If there’s no hegemonic mainstream to define your genre against, then you have to invent one. And, I think, nü-metal gets invented as a term and becomes really an easy whipping boy for the really speed metal or death metal guys who imagine a kind of real authenticity for this one definition of heaviness. And I think “Linchpin” is unfairly couched in these terms. It was their first single and video for the record and as the single it was seen as their “sell-out song.”
Smith: The video itself, I mean, it’s full of industrial imagery even though Digimortal, the record, is supposed to be all about the digital. What do you make out of that, the sort of tension between the industrial imagery and title of the record itself?
Hawk: Well this record in general, but especially the video, kind of reminds me of The Matrix, you know? The video opens with industrial imagery that reminds me of the Nebuchadnezzar, in The Matrix, where everyone is, where the humans are taking up and reappropriating older industrial technologies once they’ve been stripped away from the [digital] matrix.
6. "Invisible Wounds (Dark Bodies)" – 3:54
Smith: If the last track, “Linchpin,” was seen as Digimortal’s “sell out” track, then their traditional fans must have really hated the relative slowness and clean guitars of “Invisible Wounds.”
Hawk: Yeah, I’m sure the death metal fans really hate this one, but “Invisible Wounds” is really one of my favorites. It just has such a heavy dark mood that I think is so fitting for the general tone of the record. This has to be one of the heaviest mellow songs ever. I like the way they manage and control the traditional AABA format, traditional song structure, and make it work for the dynamics of the track. The clean, mellow verses for me make the heavier mid break 10 times heavier. So, after the mellow parts, the intensity of heavy guitars and drums when they kick in is just that much more vibrant and in-your-face. I also love the video for this track. It sounds really good live, with just a sketchy vocal part here and there, but it is a live with audience genre that is typical of rock and metal videos. Chuck Klosterman has this great genre analysis of metal videos in Fargo Rock City: live without audience, live with audience, and concept video. And he’s funny as usual, he notes that live with audience videos always come once the band has reached a certain peak or certain level of popularity. They are really meant to show a band’s rising status, to show that they’ve made it, so they have a big stage, lots of amps, huge crowd, all this sort of stuff. This seems really consistent with Fear Factory’s position at the point, at least the way that Roadrunner Records was trying to position them after the success of Obsolete. And, for whatever reason, this song seems to remind me of The Matrix too. You know, dark bodies floating in darkness always reminds me of the moment that Neo wakes up and you see the rows of bodies jacked into the matrix. I love the keys, harmonies at the end. I must have listen to this album a billion times. It stayed in my CD player in the car for almost two years while I was driving up and down 95. I think these songs are just built into my body at this point. I’m not sure if the invisible wounds are from commuting or from the imprints the music has made on my brain. Sound as a dark virtual body. The repetition here at the end, and the harmonies, and the keys you know for me I would just be driving down the road singing this at the top of my lungs along with it and it just has a kind of power and a kind of heaviness that just playing fast all the time doesn’t have.
7. "Acres of Skin" – 3:55
Smith: But it seems the entire record is devoted to exploring this question—the question that opens the record—what will man become in this relationship with technology. Some songs portray a kind of pessimism as technology dominates the human while others offer a kind of human resistance to technology and still others there is an acceptance of hybridity. “Acres of Skin” seems to be one of the more pessimistic tracks.
Hawk: Yeah, the lyrics on this track really reinforce the image of the Matrix from Invisible Wounds and the Linchpin video. The lyrics here are all about networked bodies and machines cultivating and feeding off of flesh. The image of rows of bodies comes to my mind here again in The Matrix. There’s the dystopian fear of technology taking over and the literal, integration of bodies and technologies is really what the song is about. I remember the first time I saw someone walking around a city with the Bluetooth earpieces on—I thought this was straight out of Gibson’s Neuromancer, you know, this kind of hybridity. And that image really jacks into, in some ways “Linchpin” more than “Acres of Skin.” The whole song and video reminds me of a keystone species that holds ecologies together. I gave an assignment to my pop music class to document a music scene from the perspective of Nardi and O’Day’s model of “information ecologies.” And I think Fear Factory’s version of that assignment would see humans as the keystone or linchpin species. The Matrix is ultimately about balance of humans and technology. We can’t take humans as batteries and as resistant forces out of the ecological mix or matrix. Even though Lynchpin is an optimistic song and Acres of Skin a pessimistic one, ultimately resistance is built into the whole system, the whole ecology. Fear Factory seems to be really kind of anticipating the Matrix Trilogy a little bit. You know this album coming out in 2001 and at that point only the first Matrix movie had been out, but it really seems like, that the goal of hybridity seems to be the overall development really of both narratives, of the Matrix narrative and the narrative arc of Fear Factory. Importantly, sound is also an important part of this overall ecological hybridity—not just humans and machines and the visual iconography or what have you. Recently Diane Davis posted a Salon piece on Facebook on the relationship between doctors and music. The gist of the article was that the manual dexterity needed to play music directly related to the dexterity needed by a surgeon. Suddenly this explained many episodes of House to me where he is playing guitar or playing piano and things like that. The series really cultivates that sort of ethos. But a lot of the comments also talked about the ambient background music playing during surgery. And again, this really explains the use of music in House to me, especially the use of Massive Attack for the theme song to really create that kind of ambient background music. But Fear Factory, and “Acres of Skin” in particular take the other end of the attention economy. It really demands your attention. There is no way I could do any kind of detailed work like surgery to “Acres of Skin,” you know, it’s just too heavy. But the song really connotes for me that idea of cutting and manipulation of the skin—surgery as an invasion of technology, an opening of the skin as an interface to technology, techne, and to music.
Smith: The appearance of B-Real on a Fear Factory record is a little surprising, don’t you think?
Hawk: Yeah, I’m sure that is how many of Fear Factory’s death metal fans really just read this as another foray into nu-metal, as just another form of selling out. But for me, it really showcases the whole notion of hybridity that is behind the album and Fear Factory’s musical career in general. In his book on popular music, Keith Negus argues that there are basically three kinds of artists: Genre-ists, who play out the structure and style of an already established genre; Pastichists, who are like cover bands, and play a range of different genre—and once a new one becomes popular, they will incorporate a couple of those songs into their set, or whatever; and Synthesists, who will incorporate a wide variety of genre into a mix until a new genre emerges from their practice of hybridity.
Fear Factory’s fans value, and overly so, a certain sense of “authenticity” and want Fear Factory to be genreists. But Fear Factory has always worked to be synthesists, in my view. First crossing over death metal and industrial, and then incorporating techno and electronica, and here hip-hop. What happens when you cross all of these things over, all these genre over? You get a track like “Back the Fuck up”!
And I tend to read Fear Factory here as trying to educate their audience about this issue. Maybe this isn’t their intention, but I want to read it that way because one of my favorite lines on the track is: “I’ll come back with a fist of lead, to educate your mind with a blow to the head”—you know, who wouldn’t love that line? Hip-hop and rock crossing over is really not that surprising generally. Going back to the creation of “rock and roll” as a marketing category that crossed over rhythm and blues and country, black “folk” and white “folk” or local and regional forms have always been crossed over to create the mass culture rock genre. From the Beatles, to Zeppelin, and the Stones, Hendrix, rock has always done this kind of synthetic work. No one should have been surprised by Anthrax and Public Enemy or Run DMC and Aerosmith. Just look at Ice Cube’s “Wicked” and Korn’s cover. The mood, aggressiveness, and style are all there in both tracks. Korn just adds guitar. Besides, just look at the origins of hip hop and punk—working class streets of New York spawn similar responses by the young, both black and white. No one should be surprised by Bad Brains and punk, the Clash and Reggae, or Limp Bizkit and rap, or “Back the Fuck Up.”
9. "Byte Block" – 5:21
Smith: The lyrics on this track are some of the most defeated on the record. It answers the opening question—what will human beings become—with: slaves. Reduced to flesh, embodied, but subjectless or soulless.
Hawk: Yeah, I read the record as exploring various angles on the question of contemporary humanism and this track gives a particular answer. But one that I think operates in a range that is typical of a lot of academic discussions over the past thirty years or so. Humanism would see the human at the center of culture, or politics, or ethics, and, of course, the human subject would be conscious, critical, rational, and, in particular, unified as the seat of agency. Technology, from the seat of humanism, problematizes the human and in response the human should be reasserted as the center and predominate agent. Anti-humanism accepts that the human is displaced and, pretty much, let’s the human go. Agency is placed on the systems that produce subjectivity mostly without any active participation of most of humans involved in the system. In this kind of context, there is no real need to revalue the human. Depending on your flavor of anti-humanism, technology may be neither good nor bad; it just exists and is something that should be studied, that we should figure out how its operations work. Posthumanism doesn’t efface the human entirely, in the same way, but sees the human as one agency among many in larger technological and material systems. This means that the subject isn’t unified either, though, as it is in humanism, it can be multiple and it can also be contradictory. Technology here is neither good nor bad in itself, but it does have good or bad effects in various situated constellations or what have you. Technology then becomes something that is ultimately co-productive of the human and operates in constant tension with the human. And, I think, Fear Factory seems to be toggling through these positions and exploring their possibilities throughout the record. “Byte Block” seems to take an anti-human image and hold it up to be problematized, but it’s not yet clear what the response to anti-humanism should be; should it be a humanist response or should it be a posthumanist response?
There are a number of academic versions of posthumanism, but I think Braidotti’s book Transpositions that we talked about earlier is a version that speaks well to the world that I think Fear Factory is trying to develop here. Braidotti is trying to develop a theoretical approach based on Deleuzian schizo-phrenia and becoming in conjunction with her particular brand of feminism. She is after a model that accepts this paradox and contradiction of contemporary subjectivity but doesn’t want to do away with subjectivity as a key part of the system because she doesn’t want to do away with ethical and political effects. We participate, we co-produce subjectivities, therefore we have some responsibility in the ethical and political effects from those constellations that we’re a part of. So, we could read the paradox that I talked about earlier when we were talking about Braidotti in these human/anti-human/posthuman terms. So the global technological capitalism is creating a culture centered on the individual, but this individual is no longer unified as in humanism. It is multiple and often contradictory. If we accept this model of subjectivity either tacitly or uncritically, the human will be effaced as in anti-humansim. “Byte Block” situates the humanism here—the digital blocks consciousness, mind, and reduces us to a single pieces of flesh. But if humanism is our sole response to this, we will end up with a reactionary culture in the form of various fundamentalisms, that Braidotti was talking about before, right, which will only deny rather than deal with the contemporary reality and make us slaves to pre-existing propaganda—so, if we accept this humanist and fundamentalist response, we’d be stuck in these ideologies which would make us slaves no better than contemporary technology or contemporary capital would.
10. "Hurt Conveyor" – 3:42
Smith: It’s interesting that Digimortal was released in 2001, the same year Apple released the first generation of the iPod, and since then, digital music has become the dominant issue in the music industry. What’s your take on the effects of digital music?
Hawk: Well there is a certain amount of irony here to the warnings that Fear Factory and Digimortal put forward. While the hybridity they are experimenting with is productive for the evolution of musical genre, what digital technology seems to be doing to the music industry is creating real problems. While many punk and metal bands and fans might love to see the major labels suffering, the free access to music online seems to be hurting music in other ways. Jeremy Schlosberg has a blog article on the industry site Music Think Tank called “Farewell to the Casual Music Fan” and he argues that there are four distinct ways that digital music is hurting music and the music scene in general. Specifically, he is arguing against Kevin Kelly’s statement that an underground band will only need 1000 “super-fans” who will be willing to spend 100 dollars a year to sustain a career. So, if they’re willing to spend 100 a year on CDs, t-shirts, special DVD packs, then the band can make $100,000 a year and sustain itself. But, Schlosberg argues that this “long-tail logic” is actually detrimental: to fans, to the culture, to music, and to listeners. He argues that rock music will just end up like classical or jazz. If the super-fan approach takes hold. It will require a certain amount of effort and specialized knowledge on the fan’s part and the casual fans will simply decline in number. If you don’t have any casual fans, then you don’t have popular music, you only have this kind of marginalized subculture. He argues that this also creates a cultural disconnect. We’ll no longer have a common listening culture, just fragmented or individualized cultures (that some have called idiocultures—or, what Schlosberg calls, idosynchratic sonic niches). We’ll still hear music that we like on our iPods, but won’t share a musical world with others. And, for him, this kind of communally constructed musical world will simply be lost. The same thing happens to artistic creativity, with the music itself. It would narrow bands into being genre based, catering to the pre-established desires of their 1000 superfans. No new genre will be invented because there simply won’t be any incentive to create something new because fans will always demand what they already like. And he argues that the artists will end up spending too much money and too much energy on marketing and social networking, and things like that, instead of creating new music. This will ultimately, he tries to argue, affect listeners too. The fan’s ability to hear, and understand, and enjoy new music will suffer. In a manner similar to our current politics—and this is a point that he makes explicitly. We will only be able to hear what we already believe or what we already like. Everything else then will be put into cool/uncool, hip/unhip binaries. Anything you can’t recognize will simply suck. In the end, the materiality of technology will produce an idiot culture instead of an idioculture. Either way, it won’t be the robust, authentic subculture that Fear Factory’s traditional audience wants.
11. "(Memory Imprints) Never End" – 6:48
Smith: The final track ends with a question that opens up a counterpoint with the question posed by the opening track—what will become. What do you make of the closing lines, “will there never be an end?”
Hawk: Yeah, I really really love this song. What a good closer for the record. It really jacks into the somber mood of the record, and the questioning attunement that, I think, the record calls for. The album, as we’ve been discussing, seems to strike a balance between the heavy defiant songs and moody ambient songs of defeat, or at least weariness and questioning. This album creates a world that puts these conflicting feelings into the flow of the tracks. Following a notion of Heideggerian worlding, that I get from John Covach but also from Heidegger’s Origin of the Work of Art, I see three types of worlding that operate in popular music: musical, literal, and figurative or fictional. A musical world is comprised of all of the musics that you’ve ever heard. It’s what lays the phenomenal basis for being able to hear new music, this is what Covach’s argument is. So if your parents have never heard anything like punk, and they hear you playing it in your room, it would literally be noise to them. They simply couldn’t hear it because they don’t have a phenomenological basis for it. To learn jazz improvisation, for example, you don’t just learn music theory, you’d have to sit down and listen to hours upon hours of jazz and tacitly assimilate the style and that’s the only way you’d really be able to hear the music, understand what’s going on, and also be able to play it. A literal world is the material conditions of possibility gathered up by your musical practice. All of the technologies that both create the music and now promote it; all of the people involved from musicians and producers to marketers and fans; all of the texts from lyrics, liner notes, blogs, and visual elements from videos to album covers to the scores of images scattered around the web. The fictional world is the one the band invents through its lyrics and iconography. It’s the one that helps gather the musical and material worlds and gives them not just coherence but a kind of sustainability.
For me, Fear Factory’s Digimortal really works to combine all three of these worlds. So it would be a larger sort of practice of musical worlding: the enactment and development of a musical world, that their genreist fans can’t see; I think the literal or material world that incorporates technology into their production and songwriting; a fictional world that spans their entire catalog that builds upon the fictional world of the various movies and science fiction they’re into. All of these things together sort of open up this interrogation of humans and machines. The questions “what will become?” and “will there never be an end?” highlight for me a kind of ongoing becoming, hybridity, and emergence out of this process or practice of musical worlding. It might not always be pretty, but this kind of emergence is perhaps inevitable. We can go back to this whole theme of the Matrix. It seems to show up again in the lyrics for this song as well. There’s the image and mood in the song of having just fought the machines and being exhausted and wondering if this is an ongoing battle that will never finally be won. To me this suggests Neo’s revelation at the end of the trilogy where he learns that human resistance is just a part of the system. I also really love the end of this song. Somehow it’s just so powerful and heavy when he starts repeating “stars look down on me, stars look down on me.” Again, I have the image of all of the bodies in rows being jacked into the matrix and him just looking out and seeing all the little lights of the pods like stars, you know, looking down on him and when it gets repeated like this at the end of the track, it just so reinforces that image, so reinforces the mood of the song and it’s just a kind of heaviness that the traditional sort of death metal genreist fans can’t see.