The impact of technology on society seems to be a recurring theme in progressive rock releases of recent times. Already in this young year, King Bathmat has released ‘The Truth Button’, reviewed by Ian below, which deals with some of the darker aspects of our technological world. In 2012, Arjen Anthony Luccassen released ‘Lost In The New Real, reviewed earlier by Brad, which follows a protagonist awakened in a distant future as he navigates the reality of a world he does not recognize – while also inviting us to imagine what our world would look like to someone from the past. And preceding those two, is The Tangent’s COMM from 2011, which explores aspects related to the communications enabled by our digital world.
COMM opens with sounds that now seems ancient – the squawking of two modems making a connection over a phone line, perhaps for someone’s dialup internet connection or perhaps somebody preparing to send a fax. This provides the opening for the 20-minute epic ‘The Wiki Man’, which explores both our dependence on the internet and some of the various ways we use it. Full of witty and biting observations, the piece also includes some incredible keyboards, including a nice, jazzy piano interlude that starts at about the 7:00 minute mark.
The next two tracks, ‘The Mind’s Eye’ and ‘Shoot Them Down’ are not part of the concept proper, according to this interview with Andy Tillison. ‘The Minds Eye’ refers to how we see and think of ourselves, and I find this piece more interesting lyrically than musically. With respect to ‘Shoot Them Down’, it’s the opposite, as it relates to internal British political matters with which I am not familiar, but it does have some excellent guitar work.
‘Tech Support Guy’ returns us to the theme of the album, chronicling a very bad day for the tech support guy Adam. Adam, it seems, is to be blamed for everything that goes wrong with his company’s network, never mind the fact that he didn’t build the servers, or write the software while the source of the problem is an ocean away. The lyrics illustrate one of the darker effects of all of the instantaneous communications technology that surrounds us today, mainly the virtual loss of even minimal patience when something goes wrong (as it most certainly will sooner or later) and the impulse to blame someone for the problem with out thinking things through. ‘Tech Support Guy’ will leave you sympathetic for the thankless tasks performed by all of Adam’s real life counterparts – and might also leave you hoping that the marketing manager’s boss walks into his office during the early moments of the system outage (you’ll understand the reference after you read the lyrics).
It’s in ‘Titanic Calls Carpathia’ that the concept of this album is really driven home. Clocking in at a bit over sixteen minutes, ‘Titanic Calls Carpathia’ is divided into six sections. The first two sections deal with two of history’s most famous distress calls, the first being referenced by the title of the piece, the second being Jim Lovell’s call to Houston during the ill-fated Apollo 13. These two sections lyrically set the theme for ‘Titanic Calls Carpathia’, which can be interpreted as a distress call to our modern culture and society, many members of which who become obsessed with their gadgets and gizmos without realizing or stopping to think that what that obsession is doing to them.
And now we can all talk across oceans
If we get things sussed we don’t even have to pay!
We get “FREE iTunes songs” when we return an empty bottle
But there’s so much around
That we throw the damn thing away
Beyond the rusting pylons, beyond the looted homes
People scrabble around for batteries to get more talk time for their phones
We want so much without paying, we forget someone has to make
The things we want for ourselves so we just eat each other’s cake
I’ll leave it to the reader to interpret the meaning of those lyrics for themselves, and indeed they could have different meanings to different people. Needless to say, that in ‘COMM’, Tillison chooses to look at the dark side of technological advance on everyday lives, focusing on our trivial uses thereof, our loss of perspective resulting from its use, and in general, and how much we have let it spoil us.
I’m not a technophobe, far from it – I’m very pro-technology. But the message here is nevertheless something worth pondering. Technology is a tool, and as such is neither good nor bad. The various uses and abuses of technology is what makes it one or the other. It’s great that we can all communicate with one another through avenues such as this blog, Facebook, email, and so on. And it is certainly incredible that we have access to so much information almost instantaneously. At the same time, it’s not so good when the use of technology becomes the preoccupation of one’s life to the exclusion of almost everything else. I guess the real message here is one that applies to much more than just the realms of technology – everything in moderation.