I’ve never been more in doubt, and at the same time certain, to release an album. withoutusness has been in the works for more than 7 years. It is the 5th album from Nebular Spool, my side project where I explore art and music from a future without humans. It was always a a kind of make-believe fantasy, play-pretending a seemingly abandoned planet.
And then of all things, while preparing to release this album in spring of 2020, the world actually started to end. I was finishing an album about the end of times, at the end of times. It wasn’t funny, it was just hollow, an unfunny anti-climax.
Like everyone at the start of the pandemic, I was confused and anxious, not knowing what was going to happen. I had to reorient myself to zero commissions, a collapsing tour and start all over establishing a brand new livestream format for Ugress. Months later, all is good, I now know that I will survive, I’m existing thanks to fans and supporters. The livestreams works, the tour is mostly postponed with survivable loss, I’m happy to be coping. But at the same time I must confess, I was actually super annoyed at the pandemic. I had ridiculous, self-entitled sorrow: This stupid virus is stealing my apocalypse! I worried I couldn’t release this album, or maybe even ever.
Well BEEP you, virus. I released the album. Let’s see whom of us can apocalypse the hardest.
Every era has its monsters, and I think our monsters spring from our collective subconscious. Monsters are what we as a tribe and hive imagine as punishment for our contemporary sins. We know within that we are doing something wrong, and our psyche generates a symbolic, cultural threat of punishment. This was called gods for a long time, now it is getting the biggest slice of the CGI budget. The 50ies and 60ies had their atomic ants and teenage mutants, the 70ies had the properly scary aliens, the 80ies and 90ies drowned in amok computers, cybernetic lawnmovers and sinister dial-up matrixes.
What about us, what is the monster of our time?
We have the post-apocalypse, the crumbled life in a broken after-world. Because intuitively, we all know. This planet. It WILL hit us back.
The ruins, the deserted cities, the abandoned suburbia where we scavenge for mundane nostalgia amongst the weeds, this is perhaps the biggest trope of the last few decades. Sometimes there are zombies roaming, sometimes machines, sometimes trees. What’s left is not important, what is gone is very important. We don’t give much notice to what actually caused the apocalypse, mostly a footnote, it has always already happened. Maybe aliens made it happen, maybe an AI did, maybe a virus did, maybe we did. Doesn’t matter, we intuitively already know: The apocalypse has always already happened.
I think we are far into our own apocalypse. We are quite literally consuming the planet. It can’t sustain our current way of life. We carry on mostly in deliberate ignorance, but we have intuition, and a subconscious, as individuals and as species. From this, the most beloved monster of our times is borne: Our own world mirrored as a ruin, a ruin without us. We’re dreaming up stories about post-garden life because we know we’re making a mess of the garden and our psyche is prepping for us to cope. I don’t need the overwhelming scientific proof to know. Our fairytales says it all so much clearer.
I don’t have these theories in mind when creating the music. I didn’t think, or formulate, any of this when I started Nebular Spool. That was just an intuitive ignition, back in 2007. I can’t remember details, just a simple idea, music from a future without humans. The idea is still the same. The notion that eventually only the music is left, in broken pieces, and nobody is listening. I’ve patiently kept working on it, releasing albums of questionable quality now and then. The 2013 release is particularly embarassing, but I was really lost at the time. I’m still lost, but i’m much better at it now.
For the last 10 years I’ve lived at times very migratory, all over Europe, between Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Norway. I’ll explore the artistic influence of this in another article later this year, but this transitional period is very relevant to Nebular Spool and ultimately this release. Wherever I ended up, often in major cities like Berlin, Rome, Marseille, Barcelona, I didn’t seek out the trendy epicenters, I tend to avoid the cool crowds. Avoidance is not ignorance, to avoid you need to be aware. And avoidance is also not rejection, I appreciate much that I can never be part of. I’d rather be me, and me finds it much more interesting to look at what everyone else is ignoring.
Instead of scouting cultural listings, I scout edgelands on Google Earth. I can not recognize any celebrity, but can immediately identify abandoned areas on regional satellite photos. I don’t go to nightclubs or hang out backstage at music festivals, I travel alone on rural trains or buses where its just me and old ladies dozing between the villages. I think this path ultimately allows me sometime in the future to create more interesting art than I would otherwise, but it also means I will take a long while to get there, both in every moment and in the long term.
That’s okay. The trip is splendid, and unique. I spend quiet, lonely days, patiently roaming these forlorn landscapes. Like an owl. Staying very still for long times just observing, filming, sampling, thinking. I feel almost like a guardian, of something not there, of abandonment. I’ve met curious foxes, skittish deer and gruff famlies of boar. But mostly I’ve just met a massive, patient emptiness. I’ve always longed for the future, I grew up fueled on sci-fi and fantasy. Perhaps intuitively I’ve found my own shortcut into the future we’re creating for ourselves.
I don’t sit there morosely and compose in the saddest D minor like a forlorn Goethe in romantic ruins. The music production happens with tons of modern tricks and clever plugins on a laptop in regular reality with wi-fi and coffee. All this material and experience I gather in the wilderness, is mostly the visual and thematic backbone of Nebular Spool, in use for the live performances, like tonight’s concert. The quiet, contemplative spaces are more of a catalyst and inspiration for the music, and my long term thinking, than actual material in the music itself. I won’t write about the music for now, it can play for itself, perhaps some other time another virus forces that story out.
There is something morbid in seeking out and willingly play with, absorb and express the monster of our times. As an artist that consciously work with spolia – my recent article on my demoscene upbringing explores why I do this – I often worry about the level of my exploitation with monsters. Particularly now, when a pandemic is creating a similar monster image for itself, I worried about the monsters being too similar. I always have a Venn diagram in my head with the circles of theft, appropriation, creation and curation. My experience is, the most interesting art has a good overlap of all of these, and preferably on the riskier side.
Releasing withoutusness right now is risky. It’s an album about the end of times, just as we are dodging another end of time bullet. We are, as always, surrounded by monsters. They often look the same. But perhaps at this time, it is more important than ever, to dwelve at the nuances between them and learn to recognize them.
Thanks for reading, stay safe, see you post-post-apocalypse.