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zingmagazine10 autumn 1999

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the royal art lodge
glastenbury
sputnik
3d lutwidge finch
haptics
luis macias
bob seng
asFOUR
6799
reviews

ICEBREAKER: DISTANT EARLY WARNING• NATOARTS, AESTHETIC

During the height of the Cold War, two generations of Americans lived in fear of imminent death. The atomic bomb, which was reportedly developed to end war, and with that, human suffering, ironically made the populous more afraid than they ever were before. However, the next generations (conveniently labeled x and y by a consumer culture obsessed with neat tidy packages) would grow up in a world where nuclear power and powers would seem as obscure and alien as white bread. When I immigrated to the states in ‘81 at the tender age of eight, I had been exposed to no more than one hour of television and had never read a newspaper. The media monster that I would first fear and later come to love was a non-entity to me. It wasn't long after arriving that my nightmares began. It was the early ‘80s and relations with the Kremlin were at their most precarious since the Bay of Pigs. The 10:00 O' clock news left me with the impression that we were daily on the verge of the first, and in all likelihood, last nuclear war. Please keep in mind, up until this time I knew nothing of nuclear weapons, or “the evil empire.” If all this fear that was being fed to me wasn't enough, my obsession led me to research all the information I could get my hands on about nukes. Short term-long term effects, the flash, heat wave, the driving winds. Oppenheimer lived again as I consumed his biography. I needed to vent. When I tried to bring up the topic with my peers in hopes of finding someone who shared my neurosis, I was usually met with blank looks followed by an effortless change of subject. Obviously, Americans either no longer feared the bomb or the medias' constant coverage had made the issue so mundane, that one would rather discuss the weather. So with no one to turn to, I learned to live with, and to some extent, enjoy my dark visions.
Okay, fast-forward. Two months ago, I came across an album called “Distant Early Warning.” Good title. The cover carried a bleak image of an abandoned radar station. The lone feature in a sprawling frozen wasteland. This image is very reminiscent of the bunker in John Carpenter's ‘82 scifi schocker, The Thing, in which a group of men made their final stand against a destructive alien entity. In the end the researchers decide to destroy the base in order to save it, and are left waiting to die, uncertain of their own humanity. Really good cover and the music is even better. “Distant Early Warning” is a concept album/international art project by Alexander Perls and Simon Break, aka Icebreaker, with funding by NATOarts. There are two sides to “Distant Early Warning,” the technological and spiritual, but they are only as separated from each other as the mind is from the brain. The undisciplined listener would categorize this album, (for things must be categorized), as ambient/trance but it is far more transcendental than it is ambient or trance. Perls and Break aren’t trying to fuck with your head, stimulate your high, or induce a bored stupor. What they succeed so well in doing is to capture a lamentable feeling of Postmodern isolation and a strangely melancholic memory of cold war anticipated devastation that's as beautiful as it is tragic. Thankfully, most of us are too young to have experienced those ridiculous “duck and cover” exercises of the ‘50s and ’60s. But we are all familiar enough with the Emergency Broadcast System, Fallout Shelters, and Reagan's Star War Missile Program, (which is now being revisited), to experience a certain edginess and malaise permeating from the album. It's OK. You're supposed to. At its most basic, “Distant Early Warning” is a joyless homage to the series of radar stations along the Canadian and Alaskan periphery built during the height of the Cold War. Their purpose was, and still is, to alert members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike. It's natural for me to think there is something more complicated going on in the album, perhaps a timely social critique at the end of the twentieth century. However, on further consideration I've come to conclude that “Distant Early Warning” is just what the CD jacket declares it to be, a homage. Let's be real. This project is financed by NATO(arts). Are we to expect thinking outside of the box from the keepers of the gate? Nonetheless, it's a well-conceived project that should be heard.

OE aka Skyler Moore
New York, New York
199oh my god9