A Thousand Years of Paradise

“We sought shade from the heat glare against the ruins to discover a massive heap of granite and twisted metal—a dark labyrinth of precipitous walls and broken masonry amidst which flowers were growing.”

All this talk of the fragility of civilisation and crumbling ruins reminds of an article I read many years ago in New Scientist magazineReturn to Paradise–’If the people flee, what will happen to the seemingly indestructible’ by Laura Spinney. The article asks the question: What would happen to London if mankind disappeared from the scene? How would our grand city look in five, fifty or five-hundred years? How long would it take nature to claim back what was once hers so that London became a sylvan paradise once again? Spinney’s vivid description made such an impression on me that I cut out and saved one of the magazine pages, a photograph of a derelict building amidst a ruined concrete-scape, and came up with a short piece of music to go with it. For a while the picture was ‘Blu-tacked’ on the wall behind my work desk, then a few years later found its way into one of the desk drawers. There it remained until only yesterday, 20 years later, when I took it out and made the scan shown above.

So it seems the seeds of the ‘The Time Machine’ musical were sown a long time ago. But then I’ve always had a fascination with abandoned towns and cities, such as Detroit and Pripyat. And so have many others, including Steve Rothery, guitarist of Marillion who devoted a whole solo album project just to Pripyat, titled ‘The Ghosts of Pripyat’. I recorded a few experimental sounds for Steve’s album in 2014. Although they were never used, I was delighted with the haunting effect achieved by simply tapping the side an old metal lampshade, a sound used by avant-garde composer Delia Derbyshire, famous for arranging and recording the theme music for the BBC television sci-fi drama ‘Doctor Who’. There’s also my homemade electronic vacuum tube ring modulator on the track too, which was specially designed and constructed for a BBC Radio 3 documentary telling the story of early electronic music composers Louis and Bebe Barron, the creators of the innovative soundscore for the 1950s sci-fi movie ‘Forbidden Planet’. And the track also showcases my old acoustic guitar. These sound effects were used to create the impression of a ruined, derelict landscape, giving a glimpse into a possible future, a world where mankind has disappeared.

There is beauty in entropy. Beauty in seeing grasses, nettles, willowherb and wild flowers growing amongst the rubble and broken masonry of a derelict industrial factory wasteland. But it’s not a wasteland when viewed from another perspective. From the perspective of nature claiming back her own it’s a serene paradise. Peace at last from all mankind’s excessive vigours in industry and the grime, litter and waste that inevitably goes along with the process of ‘civilisation’. In fact, I would argue that our civilisation is, if anything, the perfect definition of entropy.

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