We are approaching the end of 2019, the year in which the movie “Blade Runner” (1982) takes place. Seems like a good time to check on the status quo and compare it with the ideas and visions which first came to life in Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (1968). His story was later picked up and re-written for the screen by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. The film which was directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Michael Deeley, presents a near future scenario in the melting-pot of Los Angeles. The world is a run-down place and those who can afford it have already departed for the “Off-World Colonies”. The plot involves “replicants” who are produced for slave labor on hostile planets to prepare them for us. Today we’d call that “terraforming” which describes the science of altering the atmosphere of an uninhabitable planet in order to make it habitable for future generations.
Austrian born and Berlin resident “RNDM” aka Oliver Kargl composed and compiled the first, deeply moving audio piece, the “Off-World Mix” which is built on my audio field recordings. Having immediately understood what exactly I had in mind, he hit it spot-on and by doing so, defined a direction which his predecessors would be guided by.
Deckard, an ex-cop who is put back on his job as a “Blade Runner”, hunts down “replicants” who are manufactured super-humans. Their ambitions towards a longer life-span which goes beyond the granted, limited one of four years have made them dangerous and they therefore are not allowed on earth. Having developed the ability to build character and feelings, some replicants yet return to Earth seeking to confront their makers at the Tyrell Corporation to obtain more life. It turns out that the replicants are more decent and human than humans themselves and there is a threshold involved which leaves some characters, as well as plenty of viewers, confused about who is man and who is man-made. Interestingly, and perhaps due to bad timing at the over-saturated box office, it was not until quite some time (years) later, that the film became a cult classic. The movie has since come to be considered by many a masterpiece, as well as one of the most aesthetically appealing, relevant, and influential sci-fi movies of all time.
When I first visited Japan I immediately realized how close reality has come to some of the film’s predictions, and how far away it is from others. Looking at the movie and at reality from technological, aesthetic and sociological angles, I collected impressions in audio and image formats over a long period of time, I was able to draw comparisons and find parallels. The seclusion of the Japanese territory paired with the nature of its people makes it a good representation of global society as a whole, like Los Angeles in Scott’s film.
Thanks to Johannes Kepler we have indeed found an impressive number of earth-like planets which would be eligible for a move, for instance “Kepler 62F”. But at this point we are far from being able to get there, and still perhaps far from directly exploring our own solar system. Currently, the closest thing to an off-world colony is the International Space Station. The ISS hosts a few permanent but constantly rotating “residents” who maintain our little space-lab up there while acting as peacekeepers. SpaceX (Elon Musk), Virgin Galactic (Richard Branson) and Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos) are new, ambitious and privately funded companies and have already surpassed ROSCOSMOS, NASA and ESA by years. They shine with revolutionary ideas such as reusable rockets which return to precisely the same spot where they took off from.
These players are eager to achieve significance and leave their mark in history. Yet they all exist because of a single invention which is so profound that it can easily be tagged as the game-changer of our time – the internet. It’s the nervous system of humanity and it has turned cyberspace into an everyday reality, offering endless possibilities even allowing us to travel without actually moving our body through space; that is, we are only virtually travelling – travelling in our minds. Which leads us to a major downside of the information age because today we have reached a level where thoughts and dreams are pretty much the only truly private spaces left. The question is how much longer we can maintain those last retreats.
Consequently, instead of living secluded lives in vacant spaces in an expiring world, for us it all comes down to how well we manage things in an increasingly supervised, tight, sparse, stormy and aggressive world without an alternative at hand. Efficiency, resource and space management are the keywords of our time and in Japan I was impressed to see the masters of these disciplines at work. While it has its share of problems just like any other country, Japan, being a nation where an inventive spirit meets both engineering talent and a seemingly endless belief in technology, has the ability to provide smart solutions. I had the impression that the Japanese have successfully evolved while maintaining respect towards traditions and generations, and this co-existence of old and new is a parallel to Ridley Scott’s version of 2019.