Browsing through items in a second hand shop in LA, Robot Koch came across an old cassette. The pencil-written inscription in its cover, which read “Cousteau“, caught his eye momentarily, but the German electronic music producer didn’t think much of it. He bought the two-dollar tape to record his own material over it. “What you seek is seeking you,” says Robert quoting the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi. As Robert would find out later that evening, the cassette wasn’t blank – it contained a mysterious recording of a lecture by the late Jacques-Yves Cousteau. “It’s pure magic. I found something I didn’t consciously know I was looking for,” he adds. At that moment, Robert couldn’t have imagined that that serendipitous instant in which he found the tape, or, the tape found its way to him, would mark the beginning of the story of The Next Billion Years, his latest album.
The 20th century French naval officer and explorer, Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a true renaissance man who became best known for his undersea research and adventures. With no science degree, Cousteau became a leading voice in oceanography and marine life conservation through his story-telling skills alone – a prowess which even awarded him a Palme d’or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival for his documentary The Silent World. The tape Robert found was a 1973 lecture by the man himself in which he contemplated the future of our species and planet, “What blew me away is how accurate and relevant his prediction of the future was back then. He talks about current topics such as climate change, poisoning of the environment, overpopulation and gives an outlook about the survival of our species and how it depends on the decisions we make right now,” says Robert.
But far from being just an interesting speech, that recording was of special relevance to Robot Koch whose whole body of work revolves around similar meditations. His music, characterized by the juxtaposition of analogue and synthetic sounds, evoke both familiarity and alienation, humanism and futurism, “I’m fascinated by the future and I was really into sci-fi as a kid. This otherworldly element, exploring the unknown, and pushing the boundaries of what’s known and possible, really enthralls me,” he says. In 2018 Robert released Sphere, an album which took the exploration of space to new grounds that reached far beyond sound. Conceived as the soundtrack to an audiovisual live show, designed in collaboration with the artist Mickael Le Goff, the project was not only a musical exploration of space, but also an observable voyage through outer space made especially to be exhibited in planetariums and fulldome venues.
Listening to Robot Kochs music, it is obvious that it is the macro rather than the particular which moves him, “I perceive myself as part of a bigger picture. The more I learn about the big picture, the more I learn about myself. I try to understand more about how everything is in cosmic interdependence, to understand myself better,” says Robert. It was this big-picture view that informed Roberts decision to work with the grandeur of an orchestra and the famed Estonian conductor Kristjan Järvi on The Next Billion Years. Apart from his forward thinking approach to classical music, Järvi, like Robert, injects into his music a great deal of philosophy and existentialism, “Once, over dinner in Estonia we found out that we share a common interest apart from music: the universe and cosmic consciousness,” Robert reminisces.
The Next Billion Years is an album which, at its core, asks what the future might look like, and it was Cousteau’s own predictions on that tape which ignited such a question in Robot Koch, “When I first heard the recording I was really blown away by its long term vision. When we think about the future we usually think about our own lifetime or the one of our children, but who really thinks a thousand or a million years into the future? Or even better, a billion years?” asks Robert. But different from Cousteau’s verbal meanderings, Roberts exploration is sonic, “That’s what’s beautiful about music, you express yourself with so much more depth than you ever could with words. It’s beyond the conscious mind, it touches you deeper. You don’t need to understand it, you just feel it,” he says. Having always had a cinematic approach to music-making meant that Robot Koch also felt that the album called for a visual element. Following their successful collaboration on Sphere, Robot Koch paired with artist Le Goff again for The Next Billion Years, “My work is always very visual, I create music like soundtracks to imaginary movies in my head or to moments and feelings that I can almost see as a picture,” says Robert. That intensely visual approach to music also united Robert and Järvi’s creative process, “Kristjan works very intuitively and gives his ensemble images to work with, such as ‘imagine you’re walking in honey” explains Robert “Comparisons like that makes the musicians feel a certain way when playing. It’s all about the feeling, not just about playing the right notes from the music sheet, but to really connect emotionally with the music.”
Connecting to a piece of art on an emotional level will always be a determining factor on that piece’s impact. In The Next Billion Years however, emotions gain an added weight as even in its most abstract and philosophical forms, engaging in the existential exploration of the future of humankind is, and will always be, an emotional topic. For both Cousteau and Robert, an emotional connection, both to the earth and to each other, might also be the key as to what will determine the survival of our species, “To save mankind from total disaster is a matter of a collective decision. Cousteau proposes the idea of a global consciousness which needs to develop in people’s minds, and I couldn’t agree more. Part of the problem we have today is that people feel separate from nature and each other. I think we need to perceive ourselves as part of nature, part of life, working as a single unified pattern, not separated, but integrated,” says Robert. While Cousteau hoped to ignite that consciousness in us through his books, films and lectures, Robert counts on the power of music to awaken us, “Music is a means to allow a higher consciousness to enter. Everything is energy, everything has a frequency and with music we can connect and raise our frequency in a way we would not be able to do with the limitations of the mind.”
Release Date: 20.03.2020
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