Thursday, December 06, 2007

Arpanet - 'Wireless Internet'

The first Arpanet album was 'Wireless Internet' released in 2002 on the French label Record Makers on CD and double vinyl formats. No personnel credits appear in the artwork so I guess I will have to refer to the artist as Gerald Donald, even though he had by now of course begun to use Heinrich Mueller, as indeed he would on the follow up Arpanet album, ‘Quantum Transposition’ in 2005. This album in my opinion is one of the standouts in his catalogue to date, although that is of course a totally subjective opinion. I remember buying it at the time after a friend that worked in a record shop pointed it out to me and wondered if I was aware that it was by one of the people behind Drexciya. I wasn’t and probably snapped it up without even listening to it, something I would almost never do when buying electronic music. Of course I wasn’t disappointed, I have a feeling some people would rate this as one of their favourite Donald productions and it would be right up there for me also. Even though it’s a bit samey in places, it has more than its fair share of memorable tracks and because of its subject matter is something of a unique artefact, although someone must have done an album conceptually about a company or product before, I just can‘t manage to think of one. The company in question is Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, a telecommunications company, that in 2002 and perhaps today also are the market leaders in wireless internet technology. The phones used in the artwork look very up to date even 5 years later, they resemble that flip-phone that you see a lot of people using these days. Not me though, I still have an old ‘classic’ Nokia with a cracked screen.
Firstly the name of the project, Arpanet, refers to a system developed by The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the US dept of Defence responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military. The Arpanet was the world's first operational packet switching network, but more famously is known as being the predecessor of the internet. As you’ll see, the internet and its future wireless appliance is the main subject of the album. Why not call the project Internet, well, that would hardly be original but going back to its largely forgotten inception name is fairly clever.
The 4 minute opening track ‘The Analyst’ features a very slow pitched robot style voice intoning the following quite lengthy spiel. Keep an eye out for the questions posed within its text. “We are now in the year 2000. The entire world seems to be moving towards wirelessness. Will the personal computer and laptop computer become obsolete technology? Will we all be able to interface with a giant super computer such as 'The Beast' in Belgium by way of micro-electronic handheld technology? This is an interesting concept to seriously consider. Will we all have the ability to access and process information by mobile telephones or some type of miniature handheld technology? This will become a possibility. Software and computer companies all over the planet are investigating and researching the possibilities and applications of wireless information technology. Asia and Europe at this time are at the forefront in the race for wireless information exchange. North and South American companies are working fanatically to play catch-up in the world of wireless information networks. NTT DoCoMo, the innovators of the I-Mode cellular telephone, who have approximately 13 million Japanese linked to the information superhighway, are in the leadership position for this type pf technology. People can now transmit electronic mail, check financial activity and browse the internet through their mobile cell phones but this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as possibilities are concerned. Imagine one day of having the ability to accomplish all your daily tasks anywhere and at anytime without having to be at a particular location to achieve a certain task. In today’s fast paced society people want unlimited flexibility and mobility, this is now mandatory for virtually every aspect of human progress. Almost everyone possess a cellular telephone and the subscription number is expanding exponentially. One day we will all be wireless and this is a fact. One day we will be able to do almost everything by remote control with a multiple array of digital handheld devices. What will the implications be for humanity? Who will benefit and who will suffer? These are the important questions that we as a society must seriously ask ourselves. We are all atomic and subatomic particles and we are all wireless. “
Donald himself spoke about this more concisely when he spoke with John Osselaer in April 2002, "More wireless-ness is certain, for humans are very mobile conscious in most present day societies; eventually everything will be wireless, mobile and nanofied/microscopic. The upper atmosphere, human body and space are the new mediums, the wire is obsolete." "The wire is obsolete", this sounds like a breaking of a tether, giving humanity potentially more freedom than ever before. While on the surface this album does celebrate the achievement of NTT DoCoMo or in Donald’s own words to Osselaer, "This firm and its products are worthy of being documented so it was documented through waveforms and visuals." What he does not state is that he is obviously equally concerned with where this technology is leading us and wonders if we are ready for it. Questions like do we control it or does it control us, kind of like how we think we own our belongings but we actually in a very real way end up belonging to them. I believe there is a paradox to be seen in Donald's obvious surface fascination with technology which on closer inspection he then balances by a cautious questioning approach to it. Firstly in his questions from 'The Analyst' like, "What will the implications be for humanity? Who will benefit and who will suffer? These are the important questions that we as a society must seriously ask ourselves." and when speaking with Osselaer he says, "Nature itself is the greatest masterwork of technology. A man who takes his directives from nature is actually bringing togetherness through his inventions. We are all linked by technology, just take a look at the world around you and you will see." As I said, on the surface, in the artwork and song titles, it appears Donald is all gun-ho for this technology and more but actually he is casting his doubts about where it is all leading us. I think we are back to his theme that if we accept the good things about science/technology then we also have to accept the bad as well. This was something that in my opinion I detected when examining his flirtations with Nazi imagery in Dopplereffekt 1994-97 era, which you'll find in the DRL archives. Again, speaking with Osselear, one of these concerns does reveal itself as slightly paranoid but who's to say, judge for yourself, "Well the concerns are that we will eventually loose our liberty because tracking and data chips will eventually sooner or later be installed in all unborn generations via world governments. I will refer these yet to be born as the GPS-generation for they will be tracked anywhere on the planet by our big brothers via satellite." His future interest in Biometric ID which he would use as subject matter for the Der Zyklus album of 2004 might have grown out of this early concern. But again if you only look at the surface of that album you might feel that he is simply glorifying the achievement but I’ll say no more on that till I get there.
Musically the album opens with the looping soft textures of 'The Analyst' with the above mentioned lengthy dialogue. Interestingly the mysteriously named instrumental 'P2101V' is very similar to it, seemingly only adding a faster tempo and a synth line and hey presto, a new track. Maybe this melody was felt just too good to leave buried beneath all the dialogue of 'The Analyst' and he wanted to do something more with it. It was worth it I think as this is a great track but the surprising thing is that he will use this trick again with 'I-Mode'. ‘I-Mode’ is more slow paced, having a cold and futuristic feel with a few new sounds for Donald in the mix. On the minus side it too seems a bit short, like it wasn't fully realised. Why it feels so unfinished is because Donald finishes it on ‘NTT DoCoMo‘! What is the difference between the two, only the length and the vocals really. This version opens with the rapidly delivered, “To activate the expansion of the wireless internet, companies are developing networks that can accommodate large amounts of data and handheld devices that can penetrate into every aspect of the internets resources.” This is done in the same computer generated voice as used earlier. The lines, “NTT DoCoMo“, “wireless information flow“, “Internet and email communication transmitted by wireless activation”, “Europe and Asia interfaced by computer, satellites and antennas transmitting the future,” and “Scientific progress, infinite mobility, daytime scientific exchange, human to human interaction.” are also trotted out at intervals. I can see why he revisited ‘The Analyst’ on ‘P2101V’ but not this time. I certainly don’t feel ripped off but maybe that’s because I’m a fan but it could certainly be argued that at only nine tracks this album already slightly short changed you a bit on the music front, but when you consider that 4 of those 9 tracks are basically the same as each other, that leaves you with just 7 original compositions. I think that a lot of people, particularly if they weren’t fans, would feel a bit cheated at this. I don’t want to come across as a bean counter in my criticism but I can honestly say, again, that in spite of the statistics this album has been genuinely one of my favourites of Gerald Donald‘s so far. It has of course to be the quality of those 7 tracks, they are all that good but I’ll leave it, as always, to you to make up your own mind on this.
The second track, 'Illuminated Displays', turns out to be the true hooky opener however. Really strong and hard hitting production, sounding very full bodied despite not having a vocal element, which so easily could have been incorporated. It has a nice looping melody throughout with the tightest of tight snare driving it on. Simply great electro. 'Wire frame Images' opens with a very brief vocal snippet sample and cracks off at a rapid pace from here on it. It has a kind of elastic sounding melody looping away at its heart and a plodding bass line. I know that sounds like a contradiction in tempo but give it a listen. The track breaks down half way and takes off unexpectedly for another round before it dissolves into a sudden electronic gasp, of exhaustion?
I must say that for an album I like so much it also contains one of my least favourite of Donald’s tracks, ’Software Version’. This sounds very unlike anything that he has done before this point or since. It’s doesn’t really evolve, have a comfortable groove to it or even a nice pitch. It doesn’t really fit with the rest of the album either, sounding like a total one-off experiment. The second half in particular is very rough, it was obviously done live. Which if I haven’t said it before is something I believe Donald has more or less continued to do since Drexciya days. Miss Kittin bravely used it on her ‘Live at Sonar’ mix so what do I know and in that context maybe it even worked but I still usually skip it.
‘Devoid of Wires’ appeases for its predecessor in the biggest way however. Amazing mid-tempo track, one for the Gerald Donald time capsule even. It has many of his trademarks on here, the production could only be him. The lyrics, I think delivered by Donald’s himself, go, “She disengaged from the collective, cyber independence was the objective, she is now free, like you, like me.” The title and these words bring to my mind the image of a human being as marionette somehow awakening to its state of over entanglement with society and becoming free as a result of acting on this knowledge.” Donald, very charitably, seems to regard us, the listeners, as free as well as himself. I hope we are living up to his faith in us and that he is remaining truly free also! This seems to tie in with the last questions from the opening track, “What will the implications be for humanity? Who will benefit and who will suffer? These are the important questions that we as a society must seriously ask ourselves.” As already stated, Donald is definitely concerned with where we are going with this technology. Who will benefit, the companies that adapt best to use it and those capable of taking advantage of this technology without it taking advantage of them. Buying only what they need online and not what advertising entices them to additionally or spending too much time ‘communicating’ with cyber friends at the neglect of time spent in human interaction. He elaborated on this theme somewhat to Osselaer when speaking about keeping up with technological evolution,“Well keeping up with technology is synonymous with keeping in line with the Jones, it’s impossible. The best thing for a person to do is acquire the devices he needs to suit his needs. There is a smart way and impractical way to upgrade.” You heard him, upgrade smart! The she in question made interviewer John Osselaer prick up his ears and wonder whether it was about the Borg character called Nine from Star Trek Voyager. Donald didn’t specifically answer the question yes or no but said, “Sometimes it is good to act collectively and sometimes it is good to act individually.” Guess he knew the reference, how much of a fan he is though, big enough to use it as subject matter in his own work, is hard to tell.
The final track, coincidently again used by Miss Kittin as her set opener on her epic ’Berlin is Burning’ Electroclash mix which came free with an issue of Muzik magazine a good few years back, is yet another standout from the album, ‘Wireless Internet’. The title track itself hidden seemingly as an afterthought. Well, this is no afterthought. Really lovely tones, beautiful melody loop, slow with dark and moody chord changes. Such a timeless moment, will sound great at any future juncture of time. Again, simply beautiful.
There was a very nice website,, up for this release at the time, if you put the address into the 'WayBack Machine' at you might have more success than me in seeing it again. On my computer it sort of stalls at the first page for some reason. This website only came down a few years back, it had the video for 'NTT DoCoMo', which you can now view on You Tube. The video was entirely made up of images taken from an NTT DoCoMo promotional video but is very effective in presenting Japan as being at the forefront of technological progress, plus this was a very cheap way to make a video. Also on the site there was an offer that if you emailed them your address they would send you a free 'Are You Wireless'12", which was a nice gesture. Somewhere in it also there was a blurb about Arpanet only conducting interviews and any other communication through email, implying that it was never to have a public face and was to remain a purely electronically and internet centred project. It strikes me that they were a few years too soon for MySpace as this type of aspiration would have suited that format very well. Donald of course now has two collaborative projects, Black Replica and Zwischenwelt, which are so far exclusively active only in that medium today.
The cover image of the globe I have stated before is very similar to the cover of Drexciya's The Quest but just a coincidence I feel, as this is the perfect way to represent the World Wide Web. Elsewhere the liner artwork is text heavy with a few more images no doubt taken from NTT DoCoMo advertising literature. Someone else with better languages than me could tell me if the German, Japanese and French texts are the same or expanded versions of what we hear on ‘The Analyst’. I think there is more in the texts. The only other revealing text is the email and more interestingly a postal address for them in Germany. Whether this is still operational or not might be interesting to find out but for the record it is down here in 2002 as Dataphysix, Postfach 870324, 13162 Berlin, Germany. This arises the sticky question about where Gerald Donald was at this time basing himself. I have up to this point of writing DRL made a conscious decision to respect his privacy and have only concentrated on where his music, artwork, interviews and live appearances etc take me. Basically, in planer words, I just focus on his and Drexciya’s public face. Everything we need to know is there, anything else is not a part of the concept. Of course we will be curious about the creators, it is only natural, but we are dealing with art in the form of albums and 12”’s that were obviously designed to function and stand alone.
The ‘Are You Wireless’ 12” itself comes with two tracks already featured on the album with only some new artwork images, more NTT DoCoMo phones, to entice you to buy it. This is basically a sampler, in fact the press release that Record Makers sent out for it calls it just that and doesn’t even refer to it by it‘s official name, see scan at base of article. The tracks chosen to represent the album were ‘NTT DoCoMo’ and ‘Illuminated Displays’. There was also a promo CD of the album that came in a cardboard sleeve. The album itself was reissued on double vinyl in 2006 by Record Makers. This happened in tandem with their release of the third Arpanet album, ‘Inertial Frame’.
It’s worth wondering what NTT DoCoMo themselves made of all this. The artwork does state that the images come courtesy of NTT DoCoMo and their web address is given so someone there must have been aware of what was going on. Also to get the video footage the label would have had to have some direct contact with the company. I wonder how Donald would have reacted if they had wanted to use his music to promote their products? If he had been unwilling it would have been laughable considering that he was already doing just that, only in an album context. Just an idle what if!
Also, one last quote from the Osselaer interview is worth detailing here. Considering Donald would have been coming out of his Storm Series headspace about this time he mentions that series keyword ‘Evolution’ here in a more specific context relating to his opinion of the current I-Mode features, “Well it's difficult to say because they are constantly evolving so you cannot say what is the ultimate feature or the least feature; you just have to keep your focus on their evolution. Evolution is their most interesting feature.” Evolution itself, the life processes of technology appears to be Donald’s main concern here, but who programmes the machines? The evolution of electronic devices has become so closely tied to human evolution that this is fertile ground to consider and even to predict our own future. This I feel is the vantage point that Gerald Donald has here chosen to consider us as a species from. Of course our progress on the frontiers of physics has a close correlation to our own evolution as well. This will be my next port of call with Dopplereffekt’s ‘Linear Accelerator’.
More on original Arpanet system
NTT DoCoMo Today
NTT DoCoMo at Wikipedia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have used the track Wireless Internet to open and close sets in the last month, and the track Illuminated Displays is a staple in my record box and just erupts onto the dancefloor.

1:11 AM  
Blogger mechanesthesia said...

If you haven't done so already, you should look into "transhumanism." I think it relates at least a little to Arpanet.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! Great as always.

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