Where is everybody?

Composer Paul Kirkpatrick (Paul K) on the concept and ideas behind his new album The Fermi Paradox.

Where is everybody?

Such a simple phrase with such far-reaching implications for mankind. I have always been interested in science fiction (and indeed science fact) but it was while watching a documentary about signals being sent into space that my appetite was whetted to look further into the whole phenomena. These ideas have been developed into my new concept album, The Fermi Paradox.

During my research, it dawned on me that there is a juxtaposition between our search for extraterrestrial intelligence and the social isolation that already exists on Earth. So many lonely people surrounded by nearly seven billion other people; money spent on exploring space when our own planet is rife with poverty; species hunted to extinction for ‘sport’. What would we do if we actually encountered an intelligent alien race? If science fiction films are anything to go by, we would immediately seek to destroy it!

For life to exist in the first place, specific criteria need to be met, so maybe mankind is an anomaly in this universe. Maybe civilisations existed billions of years ago and have destroyed themselves through technological advancement?

So many ideas to put into an album!

Album artwork © Elle Nelson
Album artwork © Elle Nelson

To convey the correct scientific feel it was important to use the right samples. I obtained permission from the Oxford University Fine Tuning project to use exerts from a discussion on the fermi paradox for the title track. There are samples from NASA’s ‘Golden Record’ as well as recordings of Sputnik, Cassini–Huygens, Kepler and Voyager. Early audio of Uri Gagarin, Vladimir Komarov, Carl Sagan and Frank Drake are also used.

From the original Golden Record on Voyager the English greeting “Hello from the children of planet earth” and Arabic “Greetings to our friends in the stars. We wish that we will meet you someday” nicely bookend the record.

It was important to start the album with a track which combines the emptiness of space with the feeling of solitude, and the lonely, pulsed opening of Anomaly tries to capture that. The whole album was recorded over six months utilising the same musicians who had graced my previous album Omertà and are also my live band.

I grew up listening to glam rock, punk, post punk and electronic music, so it’s only natural for me to subconsciously incorporate elements from these genres in my work. On Ecce Homo, the drums were originally inspired by Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control; it’s great to take inspiration from the music you enjoyed in youth and extrapolate the ideas and themes you found most inspiring.

Album artwork © Elle Nelson
Album artwork © Elle Nelson

It was important to include some spoken word on the album and it features heavily on The Fermi Paradox and Drake Equation; the idea being you can focus on the spoken word or focus on the music for a different experience.

12 Billion Eyes is a tribute to lost astronauts and pioneers. The phrase “Challenger, go at throttle up” has stuck with me since I witnessed the disaster on live TV in the ‘80s. There are also samples from the conversation from ground control to Columbia on the track and I’ve tried to use them respectfully.

Exegesis touches on the ancient astronaut hypothesis that humans are either descendants or creations of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) who landed on Earth thousands of years ago. An associated idea is that humans evolved independently, but that much of human knowledge, religion, and culture came from extraterrestrial visitors in ancient times – that ancient astronauts acted as a ‘mother culture’. Academics are dismissive, but who is to really say what’s happened on earth over the last 4 billion years?

Later tracks on the album could be grouped together as signals from/into space. I’ve used samples of the transmissions and, on Arecibo, it adds a great atmosphere. The Great Silence uses a poem by Abraham Sutzkever, read by Rachel Dawson, to add a different dimension to the debate on how the universe was formed. As this will be the first single, I’ve put together a video which sums up nicely the whole premise of the work.

Embryonic, KIC 8462852 (Boyajian’s Star) and Dark Matter are about the birth of planets and what we can and can’t see in the universe. Dark matter, which along with dark energy accounts for 95% of the universe, was seen by Stephen Hawking as the next barrier physics needs to breach. Dark energy, physicists believe, would explain why the universe is expanding at an ever-growing rate instead of collapsing under its own gravity.

In addition to digital download and streaming, the album is also being released as a physical product. You can read the sleeve notes and look at the imagery whenever you like, and you don’t need a phone or broadband! The album cover, by Elle Nelson, symbolises man in a vast universe and the monolithic structure has a few hidden clues on it as to our place in the universe.

A lot of research has gone into this work and I have seen that reflected in the early reviews. It’s great when music can spur people to look into subjects they may not have visited before.

The Fermi Paradox is released on 9th November 2018 through BasilicaMusic and available on CD, LP and all digital platforms. Paul will be performing the new album live at venues across the UK in 2019.