Seven Tragedies of Spacetravel

this event, which was all brendan nguyen's idea, was a three hour, science-fiction-drenched, multi-media cabaret, complete with immortal vietnamese jellyfish aliens, and a gun that makes time go backwards. simultaneously, it all roughly orbited somehow around brendan's incredible piano playing.

my involvement with the project began when brendan asked me to turn his mother into an alien.

here's a teaser:

he had written exposition in vietnamese from the perspective of the story's collective alien entity. his mother then recorded all this exposition and sent it back to him. despite the excellent character of her voice, something about her delivery was unmistakably maternal, a quality even i could pick up, not understanding a word of vietnamese. i then pored over the translations and cut the vocal takes into individual phrases. working phrase-by-phrase, i used a granular sequencer i implemented in SuperCollider to make tiny (and sometimes not-so-tiny) adjustments to her voice. i also used a healthy amount of convolution reverb, with impulse responses synthesized from grains of her unvoiced mouth noises. i even used a prototype version of my wavelet delay plugin , and some favorite matlab functions.

here are each of her monologues. i designed other sounds, like spaceships and alien dinner music (did i mention there was food?), but nothing compared with the complexity of these monologues.

 

part one

Greetings...

Humans...

We have arrived!

This young man…

Strange… He is like us…

He was the first person we found upon our arrival just one hour ago…

we wonder about that gun…

We wonder… what it means… don’t you?

We think we know…

We have traveled billions of light years to find that gun…

And we are going to take it!

But that’s enough for now… we want to invite you to our Star Ship…

It isn’t far… but first, we’d like you to be well-nourished before boarding…

Come… follow us… follow us… the lights… follow the lights… come…

Come… follow us… follow us… the lights… follow the lights… come…

Come… follow us… follow us… the lights… follow the lights… come…

Come… follow us… follow us… the lights… follow the lights… come…

part two


It is like a boat in the sky.
Space is so cold.
We built it to save ourselves from an untimely demise
We are the descendants of a collision of two mighty galaxies...
One populated by a race of tyrannical overlords, the other... we don't recall. So many light years ago, so many light years away.
Perhaps it is wise not to pass judgement. Do you concur? We concur...
It is by accident that we arrived here in the United States of America. Although we would like to see Belgium… maybe you can take us there sometime?
We hope the trip to our Star Ship was not too painful.
It could not be as arduous as our journey to find you…
We hope your stomachs have been satisfied…
We want you to know that…
We love you. But…
Humanity is a funny thing.
Not in the Ha-Ha way… we don’t understand your Ha-Ha humors.
We think you are funny in the way you speak… in the way you drive your cars… in the way you have sex… in the way you raise your children… in the way your body is shaped… in your disgusting eating habits… in your backwards political views…
Not Ha-Ha funny… More like… mmmmm… delicious… distracting… deviant… divorce… dodecahedron… dorian mode… That kind of humors…
Some of you might take “offense” and call these blanket statements… stereotypes…
Did you notice the creative use of your grammatical system using quotations around the word “offense”? We have only been here for two hours and we already love your very human thing called sarcasm. We know no such thing as “offense.” It is an absurd notion… as absurd as the fact that we can read these subtitles, too… Unlike you… we are allowed to stereotype humans because…
Because we are only looking out for your best interest…
Because we love you…
Because we say so…
Here is another blanket statement:
You think linearly…
All of you…
As if the arrow of time moves in one direction…
As if history serves the present…
As if you understand how the present came to be…
As if asking the right question will yield the right answer…
Can you see that the arrow of time is a concept you created?
Can you see that that arrow only points backwards?
Can you see that your sense of causality is a delusion that is reinforced by your need to have subsequent events come to a singular moment in time and space? Can you see that you cannot accept the reality that the present only flowers into unforeseeable possibilities?
Of course not… We think that humanity is synonymous with ‘not-understand.’
The present is like a sea of bubbles… little things, big things… grow, pop, disappear, reappear.
Can you see that in such a world there is no forward-pointing arrow? There are innumerable arrows and they point in all directions… up, down, inside, out, backward, forward, sideways through time, across space, into everything, out of nothing…

part three


Forgive us… perhaps we have confused you. Let us explain ourselves…
We are not like you. Anatomically we are most closely related to your distant cousin Turritopsis nutricula. In colloquial terms you might refer to them as a type of ‘jellyfish.’ Turritopsis nutricula has developed the ability to return to a polyp state by a specific transformation process that requires the presence of certain cell types. All stages of the medusae, from newly released to fully mature individuals, can transform back into polyps. The transforming medusa is characterized first by deterioration of the bell and tentacles, with subsequent growth of a perisarc sheet and stolons, and finally becoming feeding polyps once again. This ability to reverse the life cycle in response to adverse conditions is probably unique in your animal kingdom, and allows the jellyfish to bypass death. This development process is called transdifferentiation.
You see… like the Turritopsis nutricula… we too are biologically immortal. We are in the middle of our own transdifferentiation.
We believe we inherited this biological trait not through evolution, but through the Life-Everlasting Gun… It looks like a Glock… but fires Life-Everlasting Bullets in the face of Death… Yes… that Gun… the one that young man has… it is ours… and only ours…
We travelled a long way to find it…
So you see… our dear humans… we see things differently… you have an age that you count in terms of rotations around your mother star. We… we… are born, and reborn… We don’t have an age… the very notion of age is absurd…
But like the Turritopsis nutricula, we return to our polyp state only in response to adverse conditions…
The universe is full of adverse conditions…
it is itself an adverse condition.
Can’t you see that your condition is one that is adverse?

part four


Your ear drums tell you stories about the vibrations in the air… we see those vibrations as pillars of dust upholding a concrete asylum. You see light photons as an image of color, form and depth. We see them as living, breathing craters floating in a suspension of disbelief. You smell and taste molecules in the air that activate certain types of nerve receptors. We don't perceive those things at all. This is a story about those smells we can't perceive…
Do you like stories?… Stories are very linear. They are the way you think. But these events did not happen very linearly. So the story must be so. We think this is how the young man found the Life-Everlasting Gun. It is why we want to go to Belgium - it is where it all began. A musician, a dealer of illicit substances and illegal firearms, and their shared fondness for that thing you humans seem to enjoy - music.
Belgium: 18:30:21:09, 21 December, 2006
This young human...
(chopped… chopped… chopped…)
... at the orange.
The rind ejected molecules in the air only he could smell.
(Chop… Chop… Chop)
A knock at the door.
(Knock. Knock. Knock…)
It was nobody…
The next week… again…
(Knock. Knock. Knock…)
Again… nobody…
… and then again…
(Knock. Knock. Knock…)
And then finally… Nobody. A Nobody.
This Nobody had a bag, a head, and a holster. All were empty and needed to be filled. The young man with the orange could offer that… but he too had a vacuum that needed filling. His cranium, his ventricles, his bones, and his mission objectives were empty like the vacuum of space. So he followed the Nobody hoping to be filled. He filled the Nobody's bag with sauce and starch, the Nobody's head with trash bags full of endorphins, and the Nobody's holster with promises unkeepable. In return, the young man had his cranium filled with remorse, his ventricles filled with gun powder, his bones filled with apathy, and his mission objectives… accomplished. It was a violent form of harmony; a beautiful, sublime function of the complex relationship between deception and dark matter.
But the young man had another space vacuum about which he did not know until it was finally filled - like how the First Expansion didn't know until it was…
He had a holster, too… This holster… when all was said and done… was filled… with the Life-Everlasting Gun. Except at the time it did not look like The Gun. It looked like:
(Chop… Chop… Chop...)
The rind ejects molecules in the air.
(Chop… Chop… Chop…)
But he fired it in the wrong direction…
(Chop… Chop… Chop…)

(Chop… Chop…)
Blood Orange!
Delicious. Departmental. Decapitate. Demoralize. Destroy. Defend. Demonstrate.
Ha-Ha. Humors.
It didn't work for him… he didn't know it had to be a head shot. He is still a mortal!
(Bang… Bang… Bang… )
Besides… He may have the Life-Everlasting Gun… but he has no Life-Everlasting Bullets…

(ALIEN LAUGHTER)

part five


We have finally made it… And your planet is horrible!
We heard rumors…
That the streets were paved with gold!
That everything would be beautiful!
That we would escape tyranny!
That we would find the land of opportunity!
That there were cities of gold in the sky!
That we could find our independence!
That we would be surrounded by virgins!
That we would brave the deadly waters of space!
Risk everything… our homes, our relatives, our friends!
So that we may find a better life!
So that our offspring may flourish!
So that we may escape death!

(… but there is no machine.)
But they are just rumors!

(Just a young man on a cliff… )
We are disappointed!

(He gives in to the pull of the planet’s mass. The wind whips him about.)
You have failed us!

(He ceases to experience time.)
We laugh at your insolence!

(The effects of gravity disappear in his intestines and the inside of his eyelids are all he can see…)

You have not been good hosts!
(volcanoes erupt…)
We don’t believe you will EVER take us to Belgium!
(entire oceans evaporate…)
You know nothing of yourselves!
(on a planet 9.875 billion light years away a creature screams for forgiveness…)
Your arrow of time only points towards the oblivion you seek due to your sinful nature!
(stars explode…)
You are all inhospitable vermin!
(galaxies collide…)
You are a cancer to a universe of nothing!
(the large-scale structures of the universe expand like a single cosmic inhalation…)
You are only fit for slavery of the highest order!
(our future non-selves smile in the bliss of not-being…)
May She have vengeance on your wretched species!
(the last particles of light fly to the endless void of the unknown…)
We will consume all of you!
(into the ubiquitous and farthest extent of the unfamiliar…)
You will all die!
(the last sips of a cosmic soup…)
It is inevitable!

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