Album: LAX
Author: S:M:J63
Date: 2/25/2008

Airports can be considered a perfect microcosmic representation of the greater world – a nexus of seething boiling humanity on their way to or from somewhere. It can also be classified as a nexus of technology, from the scanners that allow passengers to check in or check out and tracks their luggage, right up to the airplanes themselves; and right at the very centre of that technological convergence are the computers that enable humans to juggle the enormous metal sky behemoths without letting them hit each other or crash out of the blue. Judging from the sleeve liner notes, the issue of technology and civilisation's dependency on electronic brains seems to be the crux of the matter here, specifically that time when, 10 years ago, everyone seems to have been in a complete panic over the relation between the digits 00 and the ability (or otherwise) of computer programs to distinguish between 1900 and 2000. It was felt that a complete societal seismic shift was in the offing and that disaster would naturally follow in its footsteps; the stock-market would crash, national economies would collapse, financial institutions would fold, traffic would stop and planes would literally fall out of the sky, in other words the whole of society would be thrown back to a Stone Age existence overnight. Of course with the benefit of hindsight we can laugh at the folly of being taken in by the hollow threats of the Millennium Bug but at the time people and governments alike were caught in a wave of infectious panic.

In this there is a strange convergence of people and technology in the macrocosm that is reflected in miniature in the microcosm of the airport - the realm of the axon and neuron interacting with the universe of the binary. The doubts and fears embodied in the threat of the Millennium Bug concatenate exponentially in an airport, especially in the utter dependence on the two way electronic communication between ground and plane, getting the one safely on the other without mishap. Rothkamm, through the medium of sound, encourages us to understand how a simple concept, that due to a possible programming omission an entire civilisation can come crashing down; more importantly he wants us to understand the cataclysmic shift in perception from self-assurance and self-confidence to self-doubt that this concept engendered just prior to the end of the last century. Los Angeles and LAX airport encapsulates that mental seismic shift perfectly, the one an ultimate symbol of a self-assured and successful city and the other, the ultimate symbol of that very self-assurance and success. It is then not a great leap of logic to suggest the uncertainty created by the Bug found its focus on LAX.

Paralleling the human/computer paradigm Rothkamm uses an analogue/digital paradigm to create the music on this album with a Hewlett-Packard first-generation model sine-wave oscillator in conjunction with classic custom-programmed Atari and Macintosh home computers. Rothkamm's music extends beyond mundane genre classifications and becomes post-just-about-everything, and is informed with his trademark fierce intelligence leavened with humour. This is beyond the bleepy computer music early digital pioneers created (although that is very much a part of its lineage), instead there's a very human element laced around the 0s and 1s here that very much places it into a 21st century context. As academic as Rothkamm appears it's not a totally dry academicism and there is a knowing playfulness apparent throughout.

Okay, so it's easy from the stance afforded us with the distance of a decade since those heady times to laugh at how people took the threat seriously, especially at those few frightened souls who were utterly convinced that the much prophesied end was indeed nigh and stockpiled supplies and repaired to some isolated outpost in the full expectation of complete anarchy breaking loose. Rothkamm reminds us that however we view the issue now the situation was very different then; rank uncertainty was a crucial factor in colouring our reaction to it. Ponder that while chuckling at human gullibility and the frailty of society.

[ Permalink: ]