From Bester to Beck – Our Past Is Our Future?

There’s been a notion festering at the back of my mind for a while. At what point does the supposed ideal presented to us of faster, better and easier collapse in on itself like a hastily built structure? Step forward to suggest that doing something slower and committing to something that takes time and effort to truly understand, and you may be branded as somehow ‘old fashioned’ or worse still ‘traditional’. It’s not a matter of modern is always best. When I say modern, I mean in terms of what is current. We don’t appear to as a whole have much collective choice in the matter. The way contemporary society does things now can be no other way.

There are signs of change though. Beck recently released an album called Song Reader that is a 108 page book of sheet music, no CD or MP3 version given. Lee Brackstone, Faber & Faber’s publishing director says, “[The book] makes a radical statement about the value and importance of performed and recorded music at a time when these very things are under threat.” The threat being increased industry control of ‘puppet’ pop stars and the transformation of music into a digital cloud of data.

Beck's Song Reader

Sample pages from Beck’s Song Reader

The American science fiction author Alfred Bester (1913 – 1987) who is lorded as one of the major contributors to modern science fiction, wrote a book called The Stars My Destination (1956) that was originally released as a serialisation in Galaxy Magazine (1956). His story cleverly introduces a return to what I’m going to call ‘the slow’. In the time that the novel is set, people are able ‘jaunt’, which in essence means to be able to physically teleport oneself through an innate potential contained within everyone. With this ability, which isn’t equally potent across individuals, personal travel is instant and great distances can be covered (limited by this individual variation). The story is centered on one character’s retribution and redemption, but to cut to my point, there are sections where in order for the rich and privileged to be able to display their difference in a world of teleportation and space travel, they elect to do things slowly and use outdated transportation such as steam power. The significance of this for me, is that in order to show true value, those that in theory have everything turn to something more meaningful. Granted, it is still under the umbrella of being a flagrant display of wealth, but the value remains the same and becomes the star of the show (no pun intended).

Initial serialisation of The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester in Galaxy Magazine.

Initial serialisation of The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester in Galaxy Magazine 1956.

I was invited to a new years eve party, where the hosts had a newly renovated (by themselves and a friend) jukebox that played 7″ vinyl. For the majority of the time the jukebox became the heart of the party, a real talking point and spectacle. I was amazed at its volume capability and sound quality. The obvious tactile nature of pressing clunky keys to bring up records and then watching the mechanism in action is all part of ‘the slow’.  I’m not advocating mere nostalgia here, but am suggesting that older ways of doing things aren’t necessarily worse than their modern equivalent. To me there is greater value to be found in activities, devices and mechanisms that aren’t immediately ‘convenient’. I am after all a child of the cassette tape.

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