Identity Sequence: The Evolution of the Digital Mind

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I sit here, staring at a blank document on a computer screen, thinking about what I can write about the music I have listened to. No, that isn’t a good way to describe it. A better way would be to use the words “the experience I have just had”, because that’s what it is. I realize, as I think about it, that no words can adequately describe it, and I realize how cliche that sounds because we live in a world in which we are bombarded by sensory experiences every second of every day. Our only escape from our own senses is sleep.

And if I could dream the most perfect stream of songs that represented my own consciousness, it wouldn’t be half as good as ‘Identity Sequence’.

This album is the culmination of several years of the work of veteran Overclocked Remixers Andrew and Jillian Aversa. Andrew, better known by his handle ‘Zircon’, has written music for several video game soundtracks. Additionally, he has released several original solo projects and continues to contribute to Overclocked Remix.  His wife Jillian has a similar pedigree, her vocals having been featured in several recent high-profile video game releases and remix projects. Certainly, they are one of the remix community’s greatest success stories, due to their incredible talent and devotion to their work. It was this devotion that inspired a successful Kickstarter campaign that funded the last stretch of their latest album’s production.

That describes the /how/ of ‘Identity Sequence’. /What/ it ended up being takes much, much longer to describe.

In creating ‘Identity Sequence’, Andrew and Jillian have drawn influences from many sources, and they display those influences proudly without relying on them. The style is equal parts Yoko Kanno and Yasunori Mitsuda, blended together  with a heavy leaning toward mellow electronica supplemented with a variety of instrumentals and choral arrangements. It is a style that would be in danger of being overly eclectic in anyone else’s hands, but Zircon masterfully weaves each sound into the greater tapestry of the album as a whole. And then he uses that tapestry to create a world that is perfect in its imperfection and to tell a story that is as filled with emotion as it is thought-provoking.

‘Identity Sequence’ takes place in a world that has been shown in fiction many times over the past twenty years or so. It is a world that we have seen in William Gibson’s ‘Sprawl Trilogy’, a world we have seen present in ‘Ghost in the Shell’s Tokyo, in the near- (but not /too/ near-) future Detroit and Hong Kong in Deus Ex. It is a world that is neither optimistic or pessimistic, but rather represents a sort of realistic futurism. It is a world in which everyone is connected, but that connection has led to many people feeling disconnected from their own humanity. This leads to one of the central ideas presented in the album: the question of what, exactly, defines humanity? Is it what we see and what we do, what materials compose our bodies or how our thoughts surge through our neurons, or is it what we feel, and who we feel it for?

“‘Genesis’ begins with the creation of our female protagonist.” This is the opening line in the section of the liner notes that narrates the journey of our characters. Our unnamed woman is created, not born, willed into being out of the ether into a form of blinking lights and motors, electrical impulses flowing through microchips. She has no experiences, no past, her slate as blank as the page I started writing this article on. And yet, she soon starts to explore, both the material world that she can experience through the video and audio sensors that comprise her eyes and ears and the digital world that she can enter with her mind.

In that world, she experiences, she interacts, she touches the mind of another and begins to seek him out. At this point, all the trappings are stripped away and this becomes simply the story of a girl and boy. The former is an extrovert, curious, outgoing, and naive in her enthusiasm for everything the world has to offer. The latter is a mystery, an intelligence that is clearly organic and spiritual, though feeling disconnected from humanity and searching for someone to share his experiences with.

It is during the middle segment of the story that the girl, the machine, the collection of wires and metal and artificial senses, realizes that she is not human. And this is the part that drew me in the most. What happens when a machine realizes it is not human? How is that so different from each of us realizing that we are unique beings, different from the world around us in ways that are sometimes subtle and sometimes not subtle at all? In a world where much of our meaningful communication happens on the digital spectrum, how would we even know if we were talking to a highly evolved digital intelligence, and how would that be amplified when technology evolves to a point where all of our sensory input can be digitally replicated? What, then, would define us as human when our consciousness can no longer be said to be housed in our material forms?

These questions are not directly answered, and the album is all the more beautiful for it. We, the listeners, are allowed to draw our own conclusions at the end. We know that our girl and boy do find each other, and that they vow to live a life without regrets even as the enormity of the world opens up to them. Are they alive or dead? Do they find their humanity or decide to abandon it? That is up to each person to decide, based on what their /own/ experiences of the world tell them. All we know that in the end, we think we know what the world is like, but everyone has the moment when they realize that the barriers they think they see are transitory things.

In the words of Alan Wake, “It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean.”

Identity Sequence is available on Zircon’s Bandcamp page for free streaming, and can be purchased in various audio formats for $9.

[This article originally appeared on the gaming website Attack Initiative.]

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