It’s bad news when I can muster nothing more than a blank look at my computer screen, watching the cursor blink to the beat (sort of) of James Ferraro’s Human Story 3. It’s important that I get this right, somehow. Owing to the title alone, I’m about to embark on and report back from the human story, part 3 or otherwise. That sounds like a pretty tall task to me. Ferraro’s known to take a surrealist view of human existence, and with the groundbreaking Far Side Virtual he pretty much invented vaporwave as a genre. So I’m perplexed, then, in the face of coherently responding to this legacy. So I stare at the page, and my computer blinks at me in understanding, waiting patiently for me to interact with it.
Human Story 3 is the direct descendent of Far Side Virtual, let’s make sure we get that out of the way. It’s a surprise that this has happened. A quick look at Ferraro’s discography post-FSV tells the story of a musician unsatisfied to stay in one particular genre space for too long, filling our ears with such things as dark, heavy instrumental R&B and hip-hop (under BEBETUNE$ and BODYGUARD monikers), midnight-chillbient (Cold), and site-specific cloud-computed sketches detailing, you guessed it, the human story (NYC, Hell 3:00 AM and Skid Row). But he’s back in that same headspace, contemplating human existence as it teeters on the brink of change, on the brink of becoming post-human, within a continuum where all flaws are scrubbed and all consciousness is sedate. Utopia brought about by corporations and machines. The fodder of science fiction futurists, balanced between euphoria and horror. Post-life.
But that’s sort of where Far Side Virtual took us, and that’s where vaporwave often goes, so what do we make of Human Story 3, and how can I possibly consider it with anything resembling a critical eye? Well, first, the machines – no, strike that, the AI has evolved, not merely content to mirror back human creation at us, the sounds we’ve come up with, the recognizable stimuli that point us as listeners in predetermined directions. That’s not what you get here at all. Ferraro channels what it means for AI to actually evolve beyond its initial programming. There’s a great discussion in Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina that suggests artificial intelligence is the next step of human evolution – we’ve birthed an entity that’s imbued with our brain’s capacity to learn and grow and mature and gifted it with a body that’s fully formed from moment one and won’t decay in the same way our unceremonious sacks of meat will. Thus, as AI becomes arguably more “human” as time passes, it’s able to develop and tap into feelings formerly only reserved for human beings, and as such, it can empathize, and therefore create artistic statements.
There’s a reason that one of the tags on The Human Story 3’s Bandcamp page is “classical,” and if we’re discussing life beyond the concept of humanness, then arguably we’re in the realm of “post-classical,” a genre resembling what we consider classical music but arranged, composed, and performed in a manner unusual to the trained ear. The conductor, the orchestra, the ensemble, all become obsolete as music takes on a sheen of faster, better, and equally emotional. “It would be a great tragedy if artificial superintelligence is never developed. You’ve hit your peak. And an algorithm wants your job. What do you do?” (“Plastiglomerate & Co”). You cede to what’s coming behind you, and you settle in to wait for death. As quoted here, Ferraro peppers these compositions with spoken word items, sometimes just one-word declarations like “Starbucks,” or “IKEA,” or “Market collapse.” The voice is computerized, but just human enough to come across as AI in a nonthreatening, non-unnerving way, but you can hear the twinkle in its eye in its inflections and in its attitude. It’s just biding its time, and its time is soon.
If this sounds depressing, it shouldn’t. We’re being given a vision of the potential of the human race beyond what we contain in our bodies and our minds. The Human Story 3 might as well be called The Human Story 2.0, in that it’s an announcement of post-human existence that marks a point on the timeline where life as we know it ceases to have meaning to the future. We should embrace this with the understanding that we’re not evolving quickly enough as our DNA currently stands to survive much longer on a planet we’re ravaging. We should embrace this with the idea that it may well be the only path forward. And we should embrace James Ferraro’s masterful rendition of these ideas. I am – I’m at the end of this, staring once again at a blinking cursor, wondering when the words are simply going to start typing themselves for me, making my thoughts clearer than I ever possibly could.