By Virginia Valenzuela, Arts Editor
Mr. Bungle, an experimental rock and metal band formed in 1980s Northern California, dropped a four-part NFT series yesterday based on their 1995 album Disco Volante. The artwork, which features futuristic, alien, and downright cheeky images, is accompanied by an excerpt of improvised music. Disjointed, rambling, disconnected from space and time, this spontaneous sound narrative spirals in one ear and out the other, sucking you into a death metal spaceship on its way to the outermost crevices of the universe.
Recorded in a place the band refers to as The Shotwell Bomb Factory in San Francisco, California, up until now, no one but the band has heard this “recently unarchived weirdness.” Here’s what the band shared with SuperRare.
Virginia Valenzuela: There is a lot of imagery of aliens, ancient Egyptian mythology, hieroglyphics, and what looks like excrement and toilet paper if I’m not mistaken. Why did these images speak to you when creating the album art, and what made you want to return to these images for your NFT drop?
Trey Spruance: Both the recordings and the main features of the artwork are from our mid-90s “Disco Volante” era, Mr. Bungle’s second record.
The art of this NFT is intended to self-satirize the fact that some of the futurological themes we were working with back then are of greater currency now.
Looking back at our music from the advantaged perspective of 2021, some things should make more sense now. Even though Mr. Bungle never consciously worked out “concepts” for our records, it’s probably fitting that a band hailing from the notorious tech boom-town of San Francisco would bear some signs of the then-emerging tech revolution. Some of these signs we did not bear reverently. Others we took to heart more seriously. On our third album, California (1999), major developments that would lead to what is now known as the “transhuman” era seem in retrospect to have been especially woven into the band’s DNA. These things are not hidden at all, and are easy to discern now.
For example: “None of them Knew They Were Robots” is an eschatological treatment of nano/biotechnology, like a Y2K grimoire on the Singularity. “Retrovertigo” is a meditation on technical nostalgia, media resurrection, and the widening gulf between haves and have-nots getting pasted over with futurist histrionics. “Golem II” storybooks the advent of AI by inverting the teacher/student dichotomy of machine learning. Specifically, the Golem re-tells the story of its own emergence using human mythology as an instruction tool to assist the comprehension of its makers.
But the treatment of subjects like this wasn’t new to the band in 1999. 1995’s Disco Volante was just as immersed in the chaotic convergence of technology and occulture. This can be understood easily on songs like “Desert Search for Techno Allah,” and especially on “The Bends.” In this song, mankind is the extremophile, the stranger, the alien, the deep sea diver traversing a dark inner space. He becomes indistinguishable from that lonely traverser of the infinite outer – the astronaut. The inner diver comes up from the depths too fast and suffers the consequences.
His mirror image, the outward-looking technological Prometheus, coming back down to earth, burns up on re-entry.
Again, none of this is hidden, as a considered look at the front and back covers of Disco Volante will reveal.
Finally, speaking to the artwork we have based this NFT on, it’s from the inner album panel for the final song on the Disco Volante album, “Merry Go Bye Bye.” We felt there was much to develop with this image for an NFT, since the idea of doing an NFT in the first place fulfills some kind of weird obsession we have had with themes of virtuality, the cosmos disappearing into technological ether, and the increasing alienation of more and more “distance” being introduced between conscious entities or even inanimate objects.
The “Merry Go Bye Bye” artwork ties the NFT to this ongoing theme of transhuman alienation perfectly. As a satyric tragedy, the song itself takes the search for “life out there” (whether undertaken through telescopes or by telekinesis) as pure chimera. The stage is set for the Bends-like consequences.
In the artwork, note the Hermetic paraphrase “As Above, So Below” from the Emerald Tablet. Staying true to that principle, if empiricism revealed a silent universe, empty-of-life, what could the corresponding interior human state reflect but precisely that – the dead-emptiness of the universe?
There’s a turning point in the song where, stripped of any comforting pseudo-scientific crypto-theological cover, all the unexamined inner motives for the search for life “out there” come straight to the fore. We are taken well beyond agnostic “désenchantement.” By this scenario, the maxim “As Above, So Below” can be nothing other than a portal to the Abyss watery toilet that sucks life down into dead mass rather than up in a fiery chariot of spiritual ascension.
Well cheer up, cosmonaut! The new NFT art by Eric Livingston reveals hybrid Egyptian gods doing their best to comfort us all in our crisis, compassionately offering the toilet paper we need.
VV: The music produced by Mr. Bungle is kind of crazy and raw. Was there a lot of improvisation going on in the writing and recording of these albums? Did you ever use the techniques that you tried out in the Bomb Factory audio?
Trevor Dunn: Absolutely, although much of those techniques led to some kind of “song form” which eventually made it onto the record. We actually have a history of turning improvisations into compositions. “Dead Goon” from our first record is an example of this, as was “Secret Song” from DV. The important part of this technique, once it gets down to making a record, is whittling away the b.s. Sometimes the most magical moments have to be harnessed.
VV: What made you choose these improvised clips for the NFTs over, say, your most popular songs or a never-released single?
TD: There is a certain uniqueness to this improvisation that, while being something we cherish, wouldn’t fall into our normal process of releases. It somehow fits perfectly for the unusual and ultra-modern concept of NFTs. The music comes from a cryptic place, not initially intended for public consumption, so why not go full crypto?
VV: How did Eric Livingston get the honor of animating these NFTs?
TD: Eric made the first video for our 2020 Raging Wrath release as well as some cartoon-ish social media pushes. We appreciate his irreverence and knew he’d be able to do something that matches the Surrealist, Absurdist and Destabilizing Control-isms of our ritual-improv.
Each auction winner will get 1 of 4 lathe cut vinyl featuring the entire 10 minute song, plus a hi-res MP4 of the entire 10 minute video.