Enter the Matrix

In the beginning of November, Muse released their nth studio album titled Simulation Theory. I didn’t know about it until the 12th of November when the Guy Fawkes celebrations died down in my head, so it took me by surprise.

Before I go any further, a little history of my musings with Muse… (hehe)

It all started when a good friend of mine introduced me to the alternative rock genre, particularly with Muse and The Resistance as he had purchased it when it was released. I wasn’t that much of a music person as I was mostly exposed to oldies such as ABBA, Laurika Rauch, Die Lappop by Carike Keuzenkamp (which has a bad memory attached to it) and my own overture of Vangelis’ Conquest of Paradise (don’t ask). I also had a cape that my aunt made me that people kept telling me was Batman, but I always corrected them by saying I was Zorro – my favourite anonymous weapon-welding crime-fighting-justice-bringer-dressed-in-all-black back then (I also used the cape in conjunction with a white mask and pretended to be the Phantom of the Opera – which is still my favourite stage production).

I digress. Before listening to The Resistance, the particular friend told me that this rock band had different genres in each of their songs rather than just being a lot of screaming followed by a loud electric guitar solo. I wasn’t all that interested, but I listened to it. Oh boy! Was I in for a shock? To use my words from back then – “It is AWESOME!”

After that day, Muse became my favourite band and I would listen to all of their stuff over the next few months (this was before I had a working knowledge of music, the internet and life in general. Heck, my first album that I wanted was Enrique Iglesias!). I got stuck on Supermassive Black Hole, Sing for Absolution, Map of Problematique and Time is Running Out. Then Drones emerged and my perfect little musically challenged world collapsed. I was so excited that I bought the album the day it was released. I listened to it and was really quite disappointed by the whole experience. To me it was half-hearted. It wasn’t good, but I refused to give up on the band that opened the world of music to me. I kept on listening to their older stuff. Two or three of their songs still find their way into every playlist I make.

And then Simulation Theory happened. As stated, it took me by surprise and I got it immediately. Whilst downloading, I read the description with caution as I didn’t want another Drones moment. I read it and got really excited when it said things like ’80’s’, ‘synth’ and ‘a bit different’. I was hesitant with that last one, but hoped it would be ok.

Well yesterday, on the 18th of November, I finally listened to the whole album in one sitting and I have to say – it’s brilliant! The rock and the synth and the 80’s theme is just brilliant. The lead singer, Matthew Bellamy, sings with purpose again and both the lyrics and melodies are excellent! From the first song on the album – Algorithm – you are caught up in the beat and the story the album is trying to portray. Long story short, it’s essentially the Matrix. It’s all pretty much “break out of these blockades of the modern world, the dark side of this simulated void you are living in and dig down into your inner soul and experience something human without any electronic pressure near you as it propagates a thought contagion to make you all think the same, so get up and fight this algorithm”. No, no applause necessary… Thank you, thank you.

So the album is brilliant. The entire thing is brilliant, which is a rare happening these days. I remember when Bastille released Bad Blood. I listened to it and it was the first album of which I liked every single song. Then, after a while, I listened to Lorde’s Pure Heroine. Same thing. I liked every song. Then a long time of good songs and crappy songs (the mid 2010’s were a dark time for music). I then learnt about Barns Courtney and bought his album and I liked every song. Lorde’s second album – Melodrama – came along and there it was too (almost didn’t, but upon listening to the specific song again, I realised it isn’t as bad as I initially thought). And now, Muse’s Simulation Theory is added to that list. It’s at the top, right above – which in itself is way above the rest.

Now whilst my opinion matters very little in the music world and, in fact, the rest of the world, I enjoy this. It is not about which is the best genre, artist or decade. It’s about what you enjoy. I personally enjoy whatever I like. Today it’s alternative rock, tomorrow it’s pop, after that it’s jazz. My playlists are made up of a wide variety of genres and artists and I love it.

The one genre that I really don’t like and that I will probably never listen to is rap or reggae or whatever it’s called. Kanye West, Jay-Z, DJ “I Scream My Name in Ever Song” Khaled and even Eminem don’t attract me whatsoever. It just sounds like a bunch of gibberish that doesn’t go along with the beat. Is it impressive? Definitely, or some of it, but I don’t like it.

To quote a quote I read a while ago, “Good music is like good chocolates, to enjoy it you have to remove the rapper first”.

Technology, Isn’t it Grand?

For the past few days, I have been playing Watch Dogs 2. It is by far better than the first issue of the game. I have played both and the second one has many, many, many more options than the first had. Watch Dogs’ story was awful in the sense that it was about a very boring person (Aiden Pierce) and his niece’s death. He wanted to take down a company called Blume and a ctOS operating system that enabled the city of Chicago to be a ‘Smart City’. This enabled Aiden to manipulate various aspects of the city to his advantage, etc. I never finished it because it was too dull. And the driving engine was awful. Cars seemed like they were not allowed to leave the ground and they could only drive in four directions, i.e. forwards, backwards and only left and only right – nothing in between.

Now, without getting into too much depth about the game, I can say that Watch Dogs 2 is a lot better .You have more things to play with, such as two remote control (RC) vehicles in the form of a small, two-wheeled RC car that can do physical hacks (which is useful) and a RC drone that can fly around and hack other stuff. The only problem I have so far with the game is that you cannot complete all the missions with just the RC vehicles. I was breaking into the game-world’s version of Google and had gotten to the objective with the RC car, but it didn’t activate since the character wasn’t there. I was a bit annoyed because I avoided all the security and droids and everything. Then when I moved the character in, all the guards saw him and I had to use the tazer on them.

Anyway, this game has got me thinking. In it you take down big corporations and organisations and so forth exposing them for who and what they really are. But you can also hack many things. Things like phones, grenades, cars, etc. and this is what got me thinking. In our own world, technology is becoming more and more integrated with each other. In Smart Homes, the fridge can talk to your local server which then sends you a text saying that the milk is finished or that your eggs are a bit smelly. The Home is also connected to your security system with all the cameras and sensors and stuff, as well as to your car. And if you have an electric car, the battery power in your car can be used to keep your lights on when the power goes out, but let’s face it – if you have enough money for a Smart Home then you wouldn’t live in a power-outage prone area.

Then we get to the military. Many, if not all, of the equipment and weapons these days in modern armies have a chip or two in them. This means that if hostile forces acquire the weapon, it can be remotely aborted or sabotaged making it useless. We have ‘smart grenades’ that can be fired from a computer-controlled M32 grenade launcher that can change direction in mid-air. The same goes for ‘smart bullets’. Fired from a M99 sniper rifle, it can make subtle adjustments in its telemetry due to wind resistance or the Earth’s rotation to assure the shooter of a hit. (Personally, I believe that it takes the skill out of the entire exercise.)

All of these things can be hacked, probably. And if they can be hacked, then there is a huge risk in creating them. But we humans only greedily think about being better than everyone else and so these smart weapons will be produced as it is all about having the edge, whether it is on the battlefield or in suburbia.

Now, if you ask me on which side I would be in the inevitable upcoming war on technology, then I would still say technology. Technology has the power to save this planet. Technology can stop Global Warming, it can fix the ozone layer, it can stop the pollution in Beijing and it can save the Internal Combustion Engine from extinction. It can do all of those things, but only if we let it. At the moment we are too concerned with what our neighbours are plotting than what we can do to make life on our side of the fence better.

 

© 2017 Michael de Kock

Car Enthusiast Extraordinaire (not)

Technological Progress

I want to talk about technology. Over the past few years, technological progress has increased by quite a margin, compared to 50 years ago. We are able to talk to someone on the other side of the planet and it is as if they are sitting next to you. It is incredible!

Sometimes though, I wonder, how much more technologically advanced we can get. There is this game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where humans get dramatically altered. It started out all well and true, with a disabled scientist wanting to be able to  walk again. So he engineered prosthesis that embeds itself in his nervous system. It didn’t take and he remained a cripple for the rest of his life. But he didn’t give up. He created more advanced prosthesis for other disabled people and created a multi-million dollar company.

Unfortunately, someone thought, “Hmm, why do only disabled people get to have augments?” And that is what I am afraid of – normal people being forced to get high-tech gadgets and stuff they do not need, or want.

Anyway, for us ‘normal people’, we can only wait and see where technology takes us. The fact that I typed this post on my PlayStation 4 both intrigues me and scares me…