Uncanny Valley – Inspired by Blade Runner and Judas Priest

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There have been a thousand stories about androids that want to be real people, like a robot version of Pinocchio. The most egregious example is the most boring movie about robots ever, AI (Haley Joel Osment should’ve stuck to seeing dead people… and also probably stayed away from the cookies. I think people keep paying it forward to him in free meals). It seems to be the main plot of every movie, book, or comic that’s made about humanoid robots. They always want to be human, their desire is to be more like “us”. Well, that’s pretty much the exact opposite of what this song is about. Humans feel pain, humans dwell on damage instead of repairing it, humans are the inferior creation. What if you didn’t want to feel any more pain? What if you got damaged by something and could rebuild yourself as something stronger than human, something impervious to sadness. Like The Six-Million Dollar Man without the feelings or the corny jokes at the end (but maybe we could keep the Lindsay Wagner cameos)?

 

Anyway, that’s the whole thought process behind the song. The “Uncanny Valley” is a phenomenon that says that when something looks really really like us, really really human, but it’s not quite there, we get a feeling of repulsion. Like we’re upset about it being a mockery of ourselves or something. The “uncanny” is the resemblance to an actual human, the “valley” is the dip in the graph of the reaction scores. Think about that Final Fantasy computer generated movie that came out in the early 2000’s, or even better, Polar Express. That movie made us be repulsed by Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks! That’s not fair, everyone loves Tom Hanks. How could you make him look terrifying? That’s right, try to computer generate him on your laptop in a Christmas movie and get super close to the real thing, but just not quite enough so that my beloved Buffy from Bosom Buddies ends up looking like a malevolent Mr. McFeely.

 

When we used “Uncanny Valley” in Major Arcana, the song represented the Justice tarot card. Here are the descriptors of the card we thought would work for the song:

 

This track is supposed to represent Joe’s growing disconnection from the outside world, he’s hurt and he wants to separate himself from his emotions. This card represents distance, coldness, insensitivity, realism, rationality, logic, and reason. 

 

And all of those things are what you can find in a machine. What if Pinocchio didn’t want to be a real boy, and preferred being wooden because it’s less susceptible to damage than flesh? What if he just thought humans were lame? I guess that’s the idea with the Borg in Star Trek and the Cybermen in Doctor Who. Someone must have voluntarily become one of those heartless mechanical bastards in the first place. They’re machines with human parts, someone had to take that step initially and probably with their permission. We always identify with Captain Picard or The Doctor because they seem to be fighting for us, they’re the ones who are protecting what it means to be human. Well, this guy doesn’t want to be fought for, he’s not interested in being human anymore. Being human hurts, let’s try something else.

 

This is one that we recorded and released ourselves for Singularity when we were releasing a song, video, and t-shirt every month for a year. It was our December track and the initial idea for the video was to put us into scenes from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. I had been making movies in iMovie previously, but I was ready by this point to move onto Final Cut because I needed a better green screen.This would be the first (of many) videos where we lived in front of a green screen for a few hours and then, since I lit it so poorly, it would result in weeks in front of the monitor trying to tweak every shot into not looking like a public access cable TV show (and I know how that looks, but that’s a story for another day.) We thought doing the video in Black and White gave it a nice retro-feel, plus B&W can make scenes that would look silly in color or amateurish take on a serious and more sinister hue. It’s the visual language of the shadows and it certainly made it feel more 50’s and 60’s sci-fi to us.

 

We did the drums on Wendy Lynn’s Roland V-Drums set (we thought the electronic drums would inspire a mechanical sound in the rest oft he performances) and we recorded the bass, guitar, and vocals into a Line 6 Tone Port UX1 Man, it had a pretty excellent sound, but it was limited to one input at a time. The software effects that came with it, though, were top-notch. That was a great piece of equipment but I wanted something that would do more, plus I was super poor at the time because I was just living the dream of being a full-time rock musician and that $135 it cost at Best Buy could be the difference between making the mortgage or getting in arrears (still my favorite word for being behind on an account, ha, sometimes I fucking slay myself).

 
It’s probably the most metal song on Singularity. We were feeling that robots like heavy riffs, especially heavy riffs that come with keyboards. So we thought doing that, adding some mechanical percussive effects, and making a video with binary code behind us would turn this into “Metal Gods” by Judas Priest (or maybe at least the Judas Priest goes 80’s synth, “Turbo Lover”). That might not be quite how it turned out, though, we certainly enjoyed the  chance to play a song like we were hard rock robot badasses. 

Of course, we reference The Wizard of Oz again with The “tin man doesn’t want a heart”, Star Trek: The Next Generation with “Data in reverse”, Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the inspiration for Blade Runner), and Lee Majors, the fuckin’ Fall Guy and Six-Million Dollar Man, himself. And the most obvious line is probably the “You might not believe there’s a machine inside the ghost”, which at the time I thought was a clever inversion, but now it just feels kinda silly.

 

This one is always fun to do live when we get the crowd to scream “Hey!” on the halftime of the bridge or seeing if  we can get everyone to yell “Machine” at the top of their lungs along with us. Plus, we give the main riff some breathing room so we can get some valuable head banging time in!

 
Listen to the song right here and you can download it for absolutely free, human.
 
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Lyrics

All circuits go and power on,

Reconstructed from the pieces that were left into,
a convincing automaton,
a believable facsimile, a six million dollar masterpiece.

 

oooooh I’m so close,
you might not believe there’s a machine inside the ghost.

 

Machine,
Machine,
Forged from the wreckage of spare parts,
This tin man doesn’t want a heart.
Machine.

 

Refurbished junk without a soul,
unconstricted by the defect of attachment.
Programmed for perfect control,
To smile is upgrade, this kiss is manmade.

 

oooooh I’m so close,
you might not believe I’m a machine inside the ghost.

 

Machine,
Machine,
Forged from the wreckage of spare parts,
This tin man doesn’t want a heart.
Machine.

 

In my nightmares, I’m still human,
I don’t dream electric sheep,
In my nightmares, I’m still human,
this cyber core only skin-deep,
I welcome emptiness,
I will seek the void,
the uncanny valley,
separates the men from the droids.

 

oooooh I’m so close,
you might not believe I’m a machine inside the ghost.

 

Machine,
Machine,
Forged from the wreckage of spare parts,
this tin man doesn’t want a heart.
Just like Data in reverse,
this sentience is only a curse.
Machine.

 

All circuits go and power on.

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