Five Ways William Gibson and Ray Kurzweil Influenced Ra Ra Riot’s New Album

Photo courtesy of Sacks & Co

Halfway into the synth-poppy title track for Ra Ra Riot‘s new album, Beta Love, frontman Wes Miles sings, “In this city of robot hearts, ours were made to be.” No mere fantastical hiccup, that line — and the song’s programming speak title — stem from Miles’ and his bandmates’ interest in science and science fiction, namely the works of sci-fi author William Gibson and inventor-futurist Ray Kurzweil. Both are luminaries to Miles, and he has spent a considerable amount of time with the works of both. To understand how Ra Ra Riot’s science-fiction proclivities found their way into the group’s lyrics, we caught up with Miles, who was happy to provide us with five examples of how the authors influenced (or in the case of No. 5 didn’t influence) Beta Love.

1. Singularity, Or the Idea of Uploading Human Consciousness Into Computers

“From seeing the documentary (Transcendent Man) about Ray Kurzweil’s life and reading about his personal life, it sounds like he’s interested in singularity, the idea of uploading your consciousness into machines and creating an avatar, for personal reasons,” Miles explains. “He wants to create an avatar of his father who passed away when he was young. I found that very interesting. Going through loss myself and having dreams about persons — mostly about John [Pike], our drummer who had died, I was having dreams a lot about him that he was still alive. And I could totally relate to this unwillingness to let go in the phase of grief that I was in. For me, that idea was a big part of the lyrics to ‘Binary Minds.’”

2. Singularity Has Its Repercussions

“In Transcendent Man it shows in an interesting and vulnerable way, at least compared to his books,” Miles says of another aspect to the concept that inspired “Binary Minds.” “It shows how he’s really hoping that the singularity happens and he can create an avatar of his father. He keeps all these documents in his basement from his father, like his tax receipts. And he’s thinking, I’m going to upload my memories to this thing and it’s going to be somewhat of a projection of my memories of my father. But at the same time, Ray is getting older, and it hasn’t happened yet. So he’s kind of fighting against time, waiting for this event to happen, while his physical body is deteriorating. And he sort of sees his body as a vessel for his mind. And once singularity happens, he can pass his mind into the internet or some computer or some other vessel. I thought that was a really interesting comment. That’s what ‘Binary Minds’ is about. It’s about my intent to write in his voice. It’s sort of a fictionalized version of him, because I don’t want to make all these assumptions about a living person.”

3. Artificial Intelligence

“The title track, ‘Beta Love,’ is inspired by a combination of Gibson and Kurzweil’s ideas,” Miles says. “There are all these things a human can expect to do as a technological singularity the way Ray Kurzweil is theorizing. That’s why it was interesting to imagine a point where artificial intelligence gets to a point where there can be a love program written for an android. It’s like the first time a robot falls in love. It’s a real thing for them. And because their technology has advanced so far, there’s a real consciousness. That last part is Gibsonian, since there’s a program in Neuromancer that has two separate sides; it’s almost like a personality, but it’s a bipolar program.”

4. Space Is Lonely

“Songs like ‘Is It Too Much’ and ‘That Much’ are really inspired directly by Gibson books,” he says. “It’s kind of embarrassing, but it’s almost like fan fiction. Both songs are about different characters that were directly inspired by the first three Gibson books and Burning Chrome, which is a collection of short stories. In the latter, there are these characters who are stuck up in space in Burning Chrome, looking down on Earth, and I found that really interesting. There are all these dramatic changes going on, on the Earth. And all these people are stuck up in this low-orbit sanctuary where maybe it’s a prison cell for them. They give you alternating viewpoints. The character I wrote about in ‘Is It Too Much’ is sort of sad that he’s up there. He’s sort of stuck. He doesn’t have any way to come home. And the character in ‘That Much’ is afraid to come down. I was imagining that character as a woman. She’s stuck up there. She’s afraid to come down.”

5. Ra Ra Riot Probably Should Try Out Kurzweil Synths

“We didn’t use them,” Miles says when asked about whether Ra Ra Riot used Ray Kurzweil’s signature keyboards. “I’m starting to think we should just get one. I haven’t actually used one before. So I don’t really know what it’s like too much, but from Kurzweil’s literary work, I’m sure it’s very cool.”

Ra Ra Riot’s Beta Love is out now via Barsuk Records

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