James Ferraro Imagines an Automated Human Ant Farm in Chaotic New Video

In an accompanying interview, he explains how Pixar is like "a modern day bible."

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Jun 28 2016, 6:30pm

Los Angeles producer James Ferraro has shared the uneasily virtual video for "Plastiglomerate & Co.," the second single off his new album, Human Story 3. Excavating internet-fossilized synth sounds evocative of RollerCoaster Tycoon era video games, the track's voiceover meditates on artificial superintelligence and lattes. Meanwhile, the visuals consist of a Web 1.0 rendering of a busy metropolis, gross in its idealized cleanliness; in it, almost faceless, bots bustle about and trample each other in algorithmic harmony.

THUMP interviewed Ferraro about the video, Human Story 3, and the singularity via email.

THUMP: What is your hope for art's ability to participate in changing the present, and making of the future?
James Ferraro: I think as long as the work preoccupies itself with the concerns of humanity and can draw an emotional response, it'll always have a place in shaping how we think about things.

Your language there, and in this video, too, has an air of sci-fi. Meanwhile, the album's title seems to reference the Toy Story franchise, yet inverts that film's subject; in this video we have humans behaving like machine toys, instead of toys behaving like humans. Can you talk about the overlap of fiction and reality in your work?
Pixar has always fascinated me... it's a mimesis of our reality, kind of like a modern day bible. The success in which Pixar speaks to the hopes and ambitions of our age with its use of neoteny and artificiality to invoke pathos is in itself a metaphor of human and digital synergy. We aggressively celebrate Pixar's cloud-like performance of human emotion, building emotional relationships with CGI characters and accepting them as powerful vehicles of meaningfulness. I personally see them as a marker of the hyper-individualistic age we live in.

You emphasize that Human Story 3 is a dialectic, neither fully optimistic nor pessimistic. Why did you choose this angle?
I think the complexity of 21st century life kind of requires a dialectical form. Generally, Human Story 3 is characterized by a tone of optimism with a few cautionary clouds hanging above, clouds of skepticism about humanity's relationship to technology presently. Overall it's a hopeful situation to me. I just dread the possibility of losing our human spirit in the process.

"Plastiglomerate & Co."'s voiceover deals with the theme of AI. In your view, what's the best case scenario for the widespread implementation of artificial intelligence?
I think again Pixar is a good example of what our relationship with AI would be like. Self-driving cars should perform humanity and sound like babies. Baby voices with regulated cognition. At least for now, until we can collectively deal with the responsibilities that come with that technology. Our tools' sophistication should enhance desirable qualities of humanity, or else I feel like we accelerate our own intellectual extinction.

Your career has so far explored a wide range of themes and sounds. Is there a single impulse or question that connects everything you do?
They're all within one stroke of thinking.. I think as I go on, I get closer and closer to painting the questions I have about our world in a less horrific way. The existential dread of most of my earlier works stopped at the horror. Now I'd like what I do to function with a higher purpose in mind. Seeing that moment of enlightenment through and keeping it intact to offer solutions for our smart planet.

Human Story 3 is out now, available in cassette and digital formats.

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