October 23rd, 2016

eyes black and white

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

When my friend Markus Fix twitted this poem, I knew I had to put it to music, and I did: "All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace", by Richard Brautigan.

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It is a beautiful poem about the simultaneously most awesome and most awful future of mankind, after we win and create AIs: returned to nature, to be cared for by robots, i.e. as zoo animals for the new higher form of intelligence that we gave birth to. Not being so good with lyrics, yet desiring to write more songs, I was delighted to find this powerful expression of a universal yearning, particularly heartfelt by technogeeks, that can be read on many levels: as a literal celebration of a lofty aspiration, to use technology not only to satisfy every human need, but also to find oneness with nature, by stripping life of all the drudgery that distracts us from its essential meaning (whatever it be); as a reductio ad absurdum of naive utopias that take this yearning as a millenial destination to be implemented rather than an inspiration to draw direction from; and as an ironic warning of the danger of trying to deprive humans of their self-ownership and subject them to an inhuman, mechanical, order, reducing them to mere animals without higher purpose of their own, whether cattle, pets or zoo monsters, kept in golden (or not so golden) jail under the control of superior masters.

And so I immediately set out to put that poem into music; though I only got the first stanza that day, and finished the last stanza weeks later. Just like my And A Pony song, I can proudly claim to mean this poem on all levels. I love the song I wrote based on the poem (taking the liberty of repeating some lines, as befits the medium of songs but not of poems); but I have never been able to perform it to a level of quality satisfactory to my ears. One thing I definitely don't know how to do is how to postprocess the last repetition of the last line so it sounds creepily like a tinny emotionless robot voice.

As usual, you can download the Lilypond source, or the printable PDF. Sorry, no recording at this point. I figure if six years later I still don't have a half-decent version, there's no reason to wait for one; and so, since my other friend Perry independently puts this same poem on his FB feed, it's as good a time as any to publish at least the score...

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