Sunday, May 18, 2008

Archaeopteryx: The Ambient Evil Robot Army

Many years ago - nearly ten by now, I'm guessing - I helped some people start a DJ crew organized around ambient music. The crew was called the Ambient Mafia. The crew's still going strong, but I left it long ago, and when I tried to rejoin, they refused to let me back in.

This stings, but it could sting worse. At the very least, I'm in good company. Billy Idol said that after he started the band Generation X he had to kick out the singer, because the singer was a twat. But the thing is, Billy Idol was the singer. I admire Billy Idol's dedication to principle, so dedicated to the good of the group that he was willing to fire even himself, and I have to say my experience with the Ambient Mafia was kind of the same thing, sorta.

Billy Idol, after leaving Generation X, moved to Los Angeles and, if the media reports are true, had sex with every single model or actress in the entire city. So far I've made it to Los Angeles. I'm working on the other part.

Apparently it requires leather underpants.

Musicians and drama go hand in hand. Every single incarnation of the Sisters of Mercy has ended in a legal battle - two with Andrew Eldritch vs. everybody else in the band, and one with Andrew Eldritch vs. the record company. (He wins every time.) Guns N Roses hated each other; Tribe Called Quest hated each other; Fleetwood Mac hated each other.

Fleetwood Mac is a great example, actually. They didn't just hate each other. They also loved each other, married each other, divorced each other, and had affairs with each other behind each other's backs. Episodes in the band's history include on-stage alcoholic breakdowns, a guitarist who left to get a magazine and disappeared for a week to be finally discovered in a Christian hippie commune, and a singer who took too much LSD, turned schizophrenic, and tried to then donate all the band's money to charity.

All this is just the tip of the iceberg. Fleetwood Mac wasn't really a band. They were a soap opera that occasionally spun off chart-topping, Grammy-winning albums as a side effect. At one point, their manager got so fed up with all the drama that he claimed legal ownership of the name and sent out a bunch of random musicians who'd never met the actual band to earn money playing under the name, while the real band busied itself with running its soap opera, which by that time was a full-time job. This "fake Mac" threatened to replace the real one, but it didn't get very far, because the roadies figured out what was going on and hid their guitars.

Long story short, when it comes to my record as a performer or a producer, my future in music doesn't look great; but when it comes to my record of drama, things look pretty good. Histrionics and soap operas seem to have some kind of very strong statistical correlation with musical success, and I've already gotten myself banned from a group I started, so that seems like a very good omen. But the weird thing about not being allowed back into the Ambient Mafia is that - although I get the feeling that a few former friends now harbor this image of me as somebody evil - I know for a fact that more than one of the people in that crew also seem to consider me a genius. I even think there's some crossover there.

That's right - crossover. There are people who think I'm evil, people who think I'm a genius, and people who fall into both categories simultaneously. You don't need a Venn diagram to figure out what that means, but as a rule of thumb, I never pass up the chance to make a good Venn diagram.

That more vivid, yellowy-greeny crossover zone is where you find people who think Giles is an evil genius.

Which demands an answer to the question - what does an evil genius do, when set against the Mafia? There can be only one answer. He retreats to his island fortress and builds an army of evil robots. Logically then, when an evil genius is set against the Ambient Mafia, he retreats to his island fortress and builds an army of ambient evil robots.

And I hate to say this, because it lends enormous credence to the image of me as an evil genius, but this is exactly what I've done. Here's the hour-long ambient robot DJ MP3 to prove it (88MB). Archaeopteryx can now create ambient music running indefinitely, with enough rhythmic and melodic content to remain interesting, or at least interesting enough for ambient music - which functions as environmental backdrop, rather than as a focus of attention, making it wonderful low-hanging fruit for algorithmic composition - so my army of ambient evil robots may in fact be ready to take on the Ambient Mafia.

Actually, though, I'm not quite the evil genius I could be. My thirst for revenge isn't quite up to par. Instead of pitting my robots against their human counterparts, I'm going to skip all that and take my (software) robots to Burning Man instead. First of all, my robots have been working hard, so I figure they deserve a vacation. Second, fighting the real Mafia's a big deal, so fighting the Ambient Mafia might be a big deal too. I could have to work hard. I might even lose. On the other hand, racking up good karma while my robots sing to hippies is easy.