He floated through emptiness. True, white nothingness. Whenever people asked him about Plungespace, Pol tended to start talking about ideas that were more tangible and relatable. He’d talk about anechoic chambers: the rare and expensive rooms in universities and acoustic laboratories that were so soundproofed that they rendered the space completely, utterly silent. Such silence – for creatures so accustomed to constant sonic company – was enough to drive you insane. It was advisable to keep the time spent in an anechoic chamber to a minimum. Made you wonder; why bother to build a place that drives you insane with its singular purpose? For science, Pol supposed, or Art? To put it another way: for the sheer mad hell of it.
Plungespace was worse, in some ways. It was the blank canvas to reality’s dense detail. The average consumer didn’t get to see the emptiness. When they placed a shop-bought “plunger” on their head, they were pulled into the shared dream of the Liquid Sky – the artificial world of opticals and music and prose and animation that filled so many people’s free time on Planet Orbis. For many Plunger technology was too much, and there was a generational divide between those who accessed the Liquid Sky by projecting with an augmenter and those who grew up with plunging as their most cherished – often only – pastime. Opinions varied dramatically, of course. From “Young people these days do nothing but swim around in fantasy-land!” to “Plunging is a spiritual experience for atheists and a communal experience for the post-community generation.” to “Plungers are for shit. You want to be a shithead?”
Pol could see it from all sides. Yet he was an artist, so in a way it didn’t matter. Whether he was advancing progress by creating this virtual playground, or damning a whole cohort of plunge-friendly youth to social isolation and neurosis was not his responsibility. Whether making the world a better place or a worse place, the only thing that “Good Art” should concern itself with is making the world a different place. And, as a musician, he was familiar with the old story of the Devil at the Crossroads; of the boy who learns to shred when he makes a deal with evil personified. Pol always thought the moral of that story – once you sifted through the religious trollshit – was that if you want to do something big, true and authentic, you have to shake hands with the worst part of yourself.
He moved his hands in a circular pattern and the blankness around him began to take some shape. The disturbances in the void – that which he was creating with his mind and manipulating with his hands – began to sing. At first it was a low hum but soon sonorous notes emerged, gradually separating and harmonising. The three-dimensional ripples – purple and blue with glistening shades of green – became gelatinous spheres. They knocked together to make wet, percussive sounds, like tribal drums or kissing mouths. Pol started to feel a little bit like God creating the Universe.
* * *
About a month previously someone had approached him after the last gig of a tour. Pol had been in a shitty mood that night, finding himself the brooding, silent, heavy drinker of the entourage. The money they’d sunk into this last spate of gigs had proved a bad investment. Mostly this was his fault because, as usual, he’d pushed them to put more energy into the detail of their tunes and the clever, hallucinogenic quality of their visuals than they had into promoting themselves and playing the game. Hardly anyone had turned up for Culture Shock’s shows and while those that did purported to have an awesome time, maybe they would have had just as much fun smoking tangerine and listening to a playlist. Nobody danced. Everyone was trying to get laid yet nobody danced. Art was a poor substitute for masturbation.
And then the tall chap had appeared, helped himself to a seat and placed a drink in front of Pol.
‘That was a great show.’
‘You didn’t want to be here though.’
Pol felt insulted at first. He supposed that was a good measure for the truth having just been spoken. So he laughed. ‘Jam right,’ he said, ‘the sound on stage was terrible. How was it in the venue?’
‘Could have been better,’ the tall guy shrugged and grinned. ‘But the visuals were pretty amazing. Kind of distracting, though.’
‘Oh man, I really don’t want to hear this. Do you want to buy an audial or what?’
‘I’ve got your whole collection. I’m a huge fan.’
‘Really?’ Pol was surprised. He took a good look at the big human, with bushy sideburns and an old-fashioned suit that – no matter when in history you placed your flag – was anachronistic. ‘You don’t look like a Culture Shock fan.’
The human leaned closer, conspiratorially. ‘Pol,’ he said, ‘What have you got planned after the gig?’
‘I…’ Pol struggled, ‘Are you… coming on to me?’ He took a gulp of his drink, adding social punctuation to the conversation. ‘I’m going to sleep on the floor of a friend’s house.’ He gasped, placing the drink on the table, ‘Can’t wait.’
‘And what are you doing for the next couple of months after that?’
* * *
He floated through nothingness that was slowly filling with somethingness. The tune played out below him and he watched it – and listened to it – evolve. It was like an ecosystem. Some of the spheres had stretched out to become pillars. They rumbled in their base and tinkled in their peaks. Other spheres had become rings through which the smaller shapes passed, and when they did they hummed together brashly. These chords emphasized a humble melody, as the rhythm of collisions made an irresistible beat. It was working. Finally, after so much trial and error, and repetition and study, and meditation, his creation was alive in just the way it was supposed to be.
They were calling the project “MindSong”. After many half-cocked, witty or otherwise daft suggestions for a name it seemed that being literal was the best approach. After the conversation in the venue, the tall man had left him with a smile and a business card. It read, simply, “Louk Luthier. Rockfish” Of course Pol knew the name. This was the man who had reinvented the Liquid Sky. He was the reason so many kids plunged these days, with his interactive liquid spaces; cleverly designed and even more cleverly marketed plunger technology. Anyone who turned down the opportunity to work with Louk Luthier would have to be out of their minds but still Pol had been reluctant. Firstly, he knew that Luthier’s preoccupation with music was a twin-bladed sword. Rockfish – the liquid space for which he had become famous – had completely knackered the music industry. Now kids could listen to pretty much anything they liked without having to buy an audial cartridge or go to a gig. Secondly – perhaps more importantly – Pol had issues with authority. Culture Shock was a democratic collaboration, sure, but it was his democratic collaboration.
Still, after much deliberation, he took a chance and had a meeting. Of course, being Louk Luthier, the meeting had taken place in Plungespace. They had plunged together and had a conversation in one of Luthier’s virtual spaces. There had been no climbing out of that rabbit hole, not once Pol had witnessed the sheer ambition and imagination. Luthier wanted to change the Orbis, and he was starting with art.
* * *
He focused on his body and felt the weight of it. It had been surprisingly easy to learn to navigate plungespace, once Pol had gotten over the overwhelming nothingness, and the endless opportunity. Following his training he remembered what gravity felt like and sank down past the living concerto – spheres knocking against him and making silly, playful discord – until he reached a point in the void that he decided was the floor. The spheres and shapes danced over him now, like a swarm of tiny aliens or fairies. Some were so small as to be but glimmers in the whiteness. Some were enormous, and parts of their amorphous surface reflected him like funhouse mirrors. The music was intoxicating; something more than beautiful. He welled up and began to cry with joy.
Eventually he reached up to his head and removed the plunger. As the material passed over his eyes it unveiled a small studio; a cozy room of wood and carpet with a messy array of control panels and magnenic technology all around. He felt chilly, a side-effect he was used to, and wiped the tears from his cheeks with some embarrassment. Someone handed him a cup of cocoa. He looked up at Louk Luthier, to the biggest, most infectious grin he’d ever seen.
‘That seems more like it,’ he said. ‘Are you okay?’
Pol nodded, unable to speak.
‘So the real test will be seeing how a non-musician fares in there.’ Louk rubbed his hands together with excitement, ‘Do you think we’re at that point yet?’
Pol shrugged. Music especially for you, he thought, that was the pitch. Your own private orchestra with no rules and no preconceptions. The most beautiful sonic experience you will ever have, over and over: stored for posterity so an old woman can visit the songs of her youthful imagination. Music that be shared between lovers, so that the compromise of their very being can be experienced as a piece of art – something they could hum together for the rest of their lives. Of course, neither Pol nor Luthier could make the claim that that was exactly what they’d created. But this was art, not science, and the worth was in the attempt, not the execution. Hells knew what they’d made – Pol certainly didn’t.
‘Give me a couple more days in there first,’ he mumbled, ‘before we test it on anyone else.’
‘Okay,’ Louk laughed, ‘No problem – just – You have some logic for that or are you just hogging all the fun?’
Pol smiled weakly. He felt post-coital. Post-hallucinogenic. His legs were trembling in the reclining chair he used when he plunged. He took a grateful sip of the cocoa. ‘Little of column A,’ he said, ‘a little of column B.’
Louk laughed again. ‘Glad you took a chance on me now, Pol?’ he asked.
Pol smirked. He nodded at the man who had single-handedly destroyed the music industry. What they were about to unveil to the world would quite possibly make musicians obsolete. It would take all the power away from the Wizards of “talent” and “prestige” and “pizzazz”. Why would they do such a thing? For science, Pol supposed, or Art? To put it another way: for the sheer mad hell of it.
‘Let’s see them not dance to this one,’ he said.