Second details on an upcoming new album called “Progress”. Calculus or just derivative? Chaplin vs. Lucy and Ethel. Jon Anderson. Fusion guitar shredding. Guitar quartets at 120db. Self-driving cars and a total loss of control.
Roger CortonIn our last action-packed episode, we started talking about your new album progress, and the concept behind it. You said that you thought that “progress” was inevitable, or at least that we all think it is inevitable. We are so indoctrinated to the idea that progress is good that we can’t imagine life any other way. You even compared it to gravity; a hidden force that we all assume is ever present.
JCHWhat a concise summation, dear friend. I salute you.
RCAnd I salute your salutation. You also hinted at the music. Care to comment on that?
I sometimes think about something Eddie Van Halen once said. “If you want to play like me, don’t listen to me, listen to the guys I listened to. Or better still, listen to the guys that the guys I listened to listened to.” Prog is about incorporating different styles into rock. Since most of the bands out now aren’t really exploring new territory, I prefer to listen to the elements that go into Prog. Classical, Jazz, etc.
JCHSure. When I started thinking about this record, I fretted and fretted and fretted and fretted.
RCAnd not on the geetar.
JCHCute. As I was saying, I fretted IN MY MIND, for two reasons. First of all because there have been so many complaints about “progress”. So how does one say anything new about it?
RCIt’s like complaining about the weather. Like the old joke, nobody ever does anything about it.
JCHExactly. What is there left to say about it? I’ll get to that in a minute, but with regard to the music, there’s also the the problem of how to express progress or perhaps the problem of progress in musical terms. Usually when people talk about that sort of thing it’s in some sort of sci-fi or futuristic vein. You know, like Charlie Chaplin or 2001. And frankly I have no idea how to talk about “the future” in musical terms.
RCI assume you mean with lots of synthesizer bleeps and bloops to depict “life in the future”?
JCHExactly. Most of the time when people do books or movies about the future they always get it wrong and certainly I have no idea what the music of the future is going to be about. Hell, I have enough trouble trying to stomach the music of the present.
RCPresent company excepted of course.
JCHBut of course. Have you ever wondered why I don’t talk about “prog” all that much anymore?
RCHe said in a leading way. I don’t have to wonder. You often act as if you’re looking down your nose at everything in the Prog world.
JCHWell, you have me there.
RCIn fact, that’s one of the biggest gripes I hear from fans is that you rarely talk about the music. It seems like you talk about every other kind of music except Prog. And it’s annoying.
JCHMea culpa. I sometimes think about something Eddie Van Halen once said. “If you want to play like me, don’t listen to me, listen to the guys I listened to. Or better still, listen to the guys that the guys I listened to listened to.” Prog is about incorporating different styles into rock. Since most of the bands out now aren’t really exploring new territory, I prefer to listen to the elements that go into Prog. Classical, Jazz, etc. And that’s relevant to the new record.
JCHWell, I have no idea what the music of the future is going to be. But I’ve noticed that in almost all sci-fi, I really common trope is that a character will be enamored of antiques. Or they’ll be some plot device to show things from today. It’s usually to get a laugh.
RCOr to save on budget.
JCHRight. You can just say we time traveled back to 2016 and save a ton of money and CGI. So it dawned on me that for all I know, in the future, the hippest thing will be to listen to Brain Salad Surgery or Tales From Topographic Oceans.
RCThat’s an awesome future, Dude.
JCHSo I just stopped worrying about genre of music and tones that seem to be coming out are more jazz fusion a lá 1976.
JCHYeah you’re always going on about how you wished I would get back to (cough) shredding. Well, it’s comin’. I’m finally finding a reason to get back to playing the guitar that way.
JCHThat never hurts. As I’ve ranted before, I always thought that the 1980 version of King Crimson was really onto something. The whole idea of a ‘guitar quartet’ at 120db has appealed to me since college. They had one great album and then it just kinda slowly petered out. Basically they ran out of material.
RCOK, so what got you started on this idea in the first place?
JCHFor whatever reason, one day I was thinking about how old I am (laughs). Or rather, how fast things are changing.
RCYou mean how old you are (laughs).
JCHIt dawned on me that the lifespan of technologies is shrinking. We’ve had 100 years with cars. We had 60 years with copy machines. We had barely 20 years with fax machines. Everything is not only moving faster, but the pace of change is increasing. There’s no way to plan for the future because change isn’t just increasing, it’s accelerating. And I had these visions of the second derivative in calculus.
JCHIt’s just an equation that lets you calculate the acceleration of an object’s position. Just one of those pieces of junk that bubble up from 35 years ago in school.
RCA literal ‘vision’ of a math equation?
JCHPretty much. I saw this equation in my head and it kinda struck me how the whole world is speeding up. Like it’s moving faster and faster according to some mathematical ‘law’. And that called to mind the image of Chaplin in Modern Times on the conveyor belt.
RCLike Lucy and Ethel making candy. The belt keeps going faster and faster and they can’t keep up.
JCHRight. It’s hysterical seeing how they attempt to cope with the situation. No one even thinks, “This is crazy. Let’s slow down the machine.” That’s just not a possibility. It’s as if it’s “better” to just do one’s best to deal, than to consider the implications of the system.
RCAnd what are the implications?
JCHWhat I failed to mention is that the equations I was thinking about have what’s called a ‘Limit’. At some point, the object reaches a point where it just can’t go any faster. And maybe the implications I mentioned are that we may be reaching a point where we just can’t cope with this much constant “change”.
RCI think that’s a Jon Anderson lyric. But isn’t that also an oxymoron?
JCHI don’t think so. The world is now constantly changing. But the rate of change is increasing. And more and more we’re going to have to trust that the conveyor belt knows what it’s doing, because not only will it be beyond our control, but also beyond our comprehension. I think people in the future will need a level of trust that I can’t even imagine. They’ll need to trust in systems, machines, governments.
RCIsn’t that the case now?
JCHI suppose. I think of it like cars. When I was first driving, you could reasonable expect to work on your own car. Now? They’re so much more complex, it’s really just for pros. I have to admit that cars now work a lot better, though. So we trust the makers to know what they’re doing and in return we give up the ability to see inside the box.
RCAnd then the car becomes self-driving.
JCHYou’re catching on. We’re rapidly letting more and more stuff be done for us, to us, etc. The benefits are great, but in return we have to trust, trust, trust. So the record is about that as well. The grand bargain.
RCInteresting. So to wrap it up. We’ve got a new record coming which will be about a) Progress. b) The future. c) Fusion guitar shredding. d) Guitar quartets at 120db. e) Something to do with calculus. And f) The total loss of control you feel in your life with self-driving cars. Did I miss anything?
JCH(laughs) No, as usual I think you summed it up very nicely.