answers

…to actual questions.  (Click one to expand.)

What is Real Space Noise?

REAL SPACE NOISE is a recording project by musician/producer Chad Blinman.  You can read more about the project here.

The name REAL SPACE NOISE was taken from the packaging for a 1950s wind-up flying saucer toy, which advertised it as a feature.  (See also REVOLVING ANTENNA, SWIVEL LITED ENGINE and NON STOP MYSTERY ACTION.)

Whether or not the toy actually produced real “space noise” is open to some speculation.  Is the term “space noise” meant to describe a sound produced by the spacecraft while flying in space, or is it some other sound in space?  One might rush to point out that either of these possibilities is nonsensical, because acoustic sound cannot exist in the vacuum of space.  (For what it’s worth, radiation at other wavelengths (including “infra-sound”) does exist in space, some forms of which can be recorded and “transposed” into the audio spectrum.  A number of such “space sounds” have in fact featured in the music of Real Space Noise.)  There is of course the more general definition of “noise,” the irregular fluctuations and background junk that can accompany any kind of transmitted signal.  In this sense, noise can (and certainly does) exist in space – but that probably isn’t what the toy designers meant.  In all likelihood, the flying saucer toy made a grinding mechanical whine like any other wind-up toy, and calling it “real space noise” was simply a clever marketing solution… or a cavalier attempt to deceive children.

When will you be playing live in my town?

Real Space Noise is a recording project, not a performing act.  The products of Real Space Noise are designed for, and created within, the medium of audio recording – constructed in layers and manipulated through extensive and often experimental studio processes.  They are not meant to represent musical performance, in the conventional sense.

Although the work could theoretically be adapted for live performance, there are no plans to do so.

Can you share some insights about (song name)?

On the subject of explaining one’s own creative work, I am of two minds.  When I enjoy someone else’s art, I don’t necessarily want their explanation of what it’s “about” or what it “means.”  My own process of interpreting or understanding the work tends to be more vital and more interesting when it is open-ended and subjective, uninformed by the creator’s explanation.  (The question “Is Deckard a replicant?” was far more engaging when it hadn’t been explicitly answered by Ridley Scott.)

On the other hand, I love to talk about ideas, craft, and process.  When asked, I’m happy to share.  So:  Choose a title if you’d like to learn more about it.  Or, if you prefer to interpret these songs yourself, don’t.

(These were compiled and revised from track-by-track writings originally posted on Facebook.)

The New Electric Self

There is plenty of dark and bitter satire running throughout EMPTY AND POINTLESS but the album opens with a bit of simple storytelling.

“The New Electric Self” is the name given by a turn-of-the-20th-century inventor to his greatest ambition:  a computer with a consciousness, modeled after his own.

Unfortunately his invention is a spectacular public failure, but a forgotten prototype is left behind, alone in the dark, where over the next hundred years it slowly transforms…

Utopian

Imagine a technologically advanced society in which truth has become irrelevant, where social and political aims are achieved through the successful marketing of beliefs, and those in power create their chosen reality by merely speaking it aloud.

Just imagine.

This song was a rare case (for me) of having the skeletal composition fully formed in my head before sitting down to build the track.  Usually my songwriting is more gradual and experimental.  The verse sections are all sharp angles and irregular time, to evoke our jarring experience of media and information.  These give way to a chorus at once satisfying and troubling, with its release into regular 4/4 time and simple anthemic melody – singing a message of triumph through deception.

Later, instead of a conventional bridge section and return to a final “payoff” chorus, the end section simply vamps away, sampled voices shouting bombastic nonsense as the music slowly fades, leaving one with a vague sense of unease and irresolution.

In Revision

Suspicion and criticism of systems of control – political, social, religious, corporate – are recurring themes on EMPTY AND POINTLESS.  This song is no exception, but here the perspective is flipped, written like an internal memo in abstract, institutional self-assurance and doubletalk addressing fear and paranoia within the system.

The lyrical rhyme scheme is itself symbolic of bureaucratized institutional policy, unnecessarily complicated and rigid, deceptively elegant in its contrived poetic flourish.

Let Us Reassure You

You are alone in the dark.

After the bleak, oppressive dirge of IN REVISION, the initial gentle minimalism and brief flirtations with prettiness in this song bring scarce relief.  Musically it may hold the most detached, unsettling moments on EMPTY AND POINTLESS.  Lyrically, though, it’s pure absurdist satire, plainly silly and nonsensical but shrouded in seriousness and bombast, my Douglas Adams/Monty Python influence coming through undisguised.

The second half of the song is like a slow-building existential panic attack, unassuaged by disembodied promises of security, comfort and success through modern industry.

Something to Say

I don’t know if it’s obviously noticeable, but the production of EMPTY AND POINTLESS owes much to the work of Rhett Davies and OMD on their 1983 album Dazzle Ships.  It’s a record that seems blissfully unaware of convention or commercial expectation, its creators approaching every aspect of production with a childlike spirit of invention.  Traditional rock instrumentation is blended with primitive electronics, radios, sound effects, toys and other found objects, alongside the latest (at the time) music and recording technology.  Surprising sonic choices are everywhere:  the engineering seems to favor gritty textures and murky atmosphere over pristine clarity; layered timbres interweave and fuse together; a conventional evaluation of “good” or “bad” sounds finds little footing.  It’s a challenging work of sonic art, with a core of expert pop songwriting and a combination of melancholy and absurdism that is unmistakably British.  I won’t pretend to have arrived at anything like it in my own work, but the inspiration is ever present for me.

SOMETHING TO SAY began as an experiment in simplicity, the entire song built on a single chord progression that repeats endlessly.  It’s played on the “piano” sound of my Wurlitzer 555 “Funmaker,” an early-70s electronic family organ with questionable instrument emulations and fantastic built-in features:  an Orbit III analog synth, spring reverb, and a genuine Leslie rotary speaker assembly.  This is joined by more ancient electronics:  Hammond Extravoice, Minimoog, Roland CR-78, Yamaha SS30, Chamberlain and Mellotron, and layers of mechanical reverb and tape echo.

The lyric and vocal were conceived as the “inner voice” of a politician or spokesperson standing at the podium, preparing to address a disillusioned public.  While it was written too long ago to have been inspired by current political events, it does seem to fit them rather well.

The Promise

Although I’m not a practitioner of any particular faith, I am keenly interested in religious mythology and history, as well as modern beliefs and practices and their effects on our social, political and private lives.  Religious ideas include some of the earliest preserved examples of what can fairly be called sci-fi/fantasy genre fiction – some of the wildest ideas ever conceived about our existence, our purpose, origins of the earth and the stars, etc.

It’s a theme that runs throughout EMPTY AND POINTLESS, usually more abstractly.  Often when writing lyrics I give preference to poetic ambiguities, leaving much to interpretation.  But my intent for THE PROMISE was simple and direct:  to openly parody attitudes of righteous certitude, entitlement and arrogance.  It’s right there in the first two lines:

I AM ENTITLED
SO IT IS WRITTEN

It’s a curious thing that messages promoting religious faith, love and acceptance are so often delivered in tones of smug superiority (“You don’t get it“), indignant protest (“How dare you question this?”) or retribution (“Join us…or else!“).

The sampled voice in the end section is not from a religious sermon but from a children’s educational film about…science.  (!)  I’m still struck by the easy, smiling confidence with which the man assures me that my life, absent the piety mandated by the creator of the universe, has neither content nor purpose:

EMPTY AND POINTLESS.

An Unwelcome Guest

What’s the secret formula behind this year’s #1 chart-topping feel-good megahit?

Probably not this:
1. Submit repeatedly to the cold, lonely psychological terror of questioning everything you believe – not only the murky bits like faith and superstition, but everything you think you “know.”

2. Indulge and explore the feelings of uncertainty and insoluble confusion, solitude and cosmic insignificance, manic delirium and abject horror.

3. Write a song about it.

I was asked recently if I think it’s “healthy” to write such intentionally dark, disturbing music.  Of course I do!  I don’t know if it’s very pleasant for anyone else (I tend to assume not) but for me, the catharsis of troubled thoughts and emotions through artistic creation is absolutely vital.  I do have a taste for quite dark music (and art, film, writing, etc.) and my work naturally leans that way – but if I didn’t have this medium to peer into the darkness, face what frightens me, breathe it in and cough it back out…  I think I’d be a very unhealthy person indeed.

The song opens with archaic machines – Hammond F100 “Extravoice” and a Roland CR-78 drumbox, in a soup of spring reverb – and a lone voice recorded on an Astatic D-104 crystal microphone.  I wanted the “quiet” parts of the song to feel immediately claustrophobic, dissonant and unsettling, like the feeling I used to get when a bout of existential terror was coming on.  The worst of those episodes (which used to happen to me pretty regularly, many years ago) would escalate suddenly to a pressurized vortex of swirling mental chaos, feeling literally insane, manic voices SHOUTING weird things in my head… and eventually subsiding.  (Not unlike the “loud” parts of the song.)

I don’t get episodes like that any more, and I think it’s because I finally stopped fighting the abyss and started staring right into it, asking the hard questions and embracing the unknown.  But a residual apprehension and self-doubt haunted me for years.  The ultimate catharsis was writing and recording this song, confronting my vulnerabilities, deconstructing all of those ideas and emotions and reassembling them into the bleakest, heaviest, darkest track on the album.

The Sky Would Fall

“God damn you all: I told you so.”  H. G. Wells, we are told, proposed this to be his own epitaph.  Actually there are different versions of both the quotation and the story – Sir Ernest Barker wrote in his 1953 book Age and Youth that Wells said this to him in 1939; Wells himself wrote in the preface to the 1941 edition of his novel The War in the Air (first published in 1908) that his epitaph “…when the time comes, will manifestly have to be:  ‘I told you so. You damned fools.'”  When his time did come in 1946, Wells was cremated, his ashes scattered (fittingly) from an aircraft – no gravestone, no epitaph.  But every version of the story, apocryphal or not, poetically illustrates the same idea:  Wells was concerned about global politics, technology and atomic warfare – rightly so – and he had a wry sense of humor.

I ran across Barker’s account years ago and wrote in in my notebook, where it sat for years before I figured out what to do with it.  I was developing this piece of music (working title “Zaxxon” for no particular reason), which began as an experiment to create a big, densely layered shoegaze-styled track without using any guitars.  (I eventually added guitars anyway, so in that sense I admit the experiment was a failure.)  The atmosphere that slowly emerged was heavy and powerful, but also delicate and almost pretty…it brought to mind dreamlike scenes of stillness in destruction, the aftermath of a terrible attack from above, ashes drifting on the air like snowflakes…

Anxiety over the use of “atomic” weapons (like the term itself) now appears old-fashioned, even quaint, despite being well founded then and now.  Although humankind has managed not to end itself completely in a global firestorm – yet – the effects and consequences of nuclear testing in the early 20th century and the United States’ use of “A-bombs” against Japan in 1945 are still with us.  The ensuing Cold War and staggering proliferation of nuclear weapons have never really ended; thousands of warheads are scattered around the world, in the hands of multiple world powers, many poised for use at any moment.  We have somehow learned to live with the lurking possibility of spontaneous, senseless, horrific self-destruction.

THE SKY WOULD FALL takes a kind of abstract, science fiction view of atomic war from the perspective of first decades of the 20th century, as the terrific potential of atomic energy was just beginning to be understood.  Some ideas and phrases are borrowed directly from Wells (the air control, the modern state), and I quoted Barker’s Wells epitaph in the chorus:

The sky would fall
You had to know
God damn you all:
I told you so

I Am Replacing You

The fear of being “replaced” is an interesting thing, and it seems to lie at the heart of some of the worst human tendencies:  paranoia, jealousy, xenophobia.  It has motivated a conspicuous hysteria among far-right Christian white supremacists – in recent years a small but bombastic minority.  Their torch-carrying, media-titillating shrieks for dominion and preservation are resplendent with irony.  Surely no one is more deserving of replacement than these malevolent cretins.  But they’re not what this song is about.

The fear of being replaced by technology has at least some legitimate basis.  Workers are replaced by machinery.  People are replaced by robots.  Minds are replaced by computers.  Today the specter of artificial intelligence lurks with awesome potential and uncertain menace.  Some fear that its emergence will make human intelligence spontaneously obsolete.  Will we be inferior to our own creation?  Would a superior intelligence hate us?  Would it hunt us?  It’s the stuff of countless science fiction dreams and nightmares.

I AM REPLACING YOU was inspired by Kurzweilian ideas about artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and genetic engineering – near-future visions of a technological singularity in which humans literally reengineer ourselves and our environment, merging human and machine intelligence, Humanity 2.0, superpowers, abundant free energy, the end of disease and so on.  Perhaps, in this future, you are replaced by your own (new electric) self.  This version of you might regard your former, human 1.0 version with a rather complicated mix of feelings, as we tend to do with outdated technology. 

The Distance

When writing a song I tend to set a very particular lyrical cadence and rhyme scheme and then follow it quite strictly, which can make completing the song like solving a puzzle.  I admit I have spent months puzzling over a single song, playing with words and phrases that carry the intended meaning and fit the scheme without sounding awkward.  It’s a challenge that I enjoy, and that I take (perhaps too) seriously – I really like a song where every word is chosen with purpose, and nothing is wasted.

This song was an unexpected departure from my usual method, its simple, free-form lyric emerging spontaneously in my imagination as if already written.  If it can be true at all that “some songs write themselves” as others have observed, it’s never been that simple for me.  But in this case the lyric seemed to flow out of the ether, in a way that felt like I might have been stealing it.  (I don’t think so, although I’m obviously borrowing rather liberally from Bowie in the delivery…)

THE DISTANCE closes the album the way it opened, with a science fiction story – or a little piece of one.  After an experimental faster-than-light mission goes missing, a crew is dispatched (in a conventional, non-FTL craft) to find out what happened to them.  The song is the dream-thought of one of the crew, lying in suspended animation for the long journey over this incomprehensibly vast distance, wondering with awestruck panic what it might mean to experience such a distance traveled in a single moment.

What's the source of the images in your album artwork?

The lyric pages in the EMPTY AND POINTLESS digital booklet are made from some of the last photos sent to Earth in 2017 by the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens mission in the final phase of its mission to explore Saturn, its moons and its iconic rings.  These striking monochrome images are even more remarkable for having been taken by a robotic spacecraft launched from Earth some 20 years earlier.

The actual cover image for EMPTY AND POINTLESS is a vector graphic re-creation of one of the Cassini photos.  I love the stark, Bauhaus-like composition but the resolution of the original photograph is too low, especially for print.  I gave my re-creation a slightly smoother, more graphic look, for a subtly unreal quality.

original Cassini photo
re-created cover image

The LOST SCIENCE cover photo was taken by another spacefaring robot, the NASA Mars Opportunity rover.  This incomplete and noisy image was the last transmission sent by Opportunity in its final moments of service on June 10, 2018.

The final message of a dying robot is irresistibly poetic.  I kept it unchanged, and simply added the text in the lower “missing” section.

All of these NASA images are in the public domain.

How does your recent work differ from RADIO METHOD?

Apart from the obvious passage of time, the album RADIO METHOD was written and produced with Steve Ashburn when REAL SPACE NOISE was officially a duo.  There are also guest vocalists (Trever Keith, Scott Shiflett, and Monica Richards) on about half of the songs on RADIO METHOD.  In contrast, everything on EMPTY AND POINTLESS and LOST SCIENCE was written, played, sung and produced by me alone (with the exception of Steve Ashburn’s guitar on the song “Programming”).

What other musical projects have you been involved in?

Viva Death is an alternative rock project let by Scott Shiflett (Face to Face, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, et al), with a revolving cast of collaborators.  I am the only other consistent member of the group, doing co-production, engineering, samples and other noises, and sometimes drums.  To date we have recorded four albums.

The Legion of Doom is a production team formed by Trever Keith (Face to Face) and myself to do remixes, mashups and original creations.  Our best known work is the 2005 mashup album ‘Incorporated.’

In the mid/late-1990s I was in an industrial/gothic rock band called Ichor.  Around the same time period I also played drums in Faith and the Muse and Das Ich.

As a producer, engineer, mixer, programmer, musician, mastering engineer and graphic designer I have worked on many other records, films and TV shows, and concert tours.