By Rebecca Hanson
Our languages and cultures, the transience of us, the abstract of us, will one day vanish. What will outlast us, though, is our nuclear waste, the stuff that we’ve shat out in our conquest for more. It is already–yes, already, with more every day–buried deep underground. Without words, without the prescience to know how our evolution will pan out, how will we communicate to future humans that if they violate these monuments to trash, they will join us in our quest for self-destruction?
A popular concept is hostile architecture on an unimaginable scale to deter these future humans from breaching nuclear waste zones. Architecture is one facet of the field formally known as “nuclear semiotics,” a branch of thought dedicated to such warnings. One of these designs is the “spike field,” a dense mire of concrete spikes. It is a future-facing concept, the effectiveness of which can never be confirmed due to its nature. We can only wait–10,000 years, 100,000–and hope that there is still a trace of humanity left to tell us.
Researchers wonder what emotional tone these warnings ought to take. It should be something primal, we agree. What is most primal–dread? That fear of the unknown? Fear of being alone? Which of these emotions are most us?
When words lose their meaning, when we are unrecognizable, what message remains?
It might feel something like this:
Here in your time
As in ours.
Maria BC’s words come late in the looming six-and-a-half minute finale to their gorgeous new album of the same name. By then, their voice is barely audible as each decaying layer of mix falters and vanishes. There’s an effort here–effort from our time. Watch the roads, don’t dig under the sign. There is blight, manmade nuclear decay presented as something natural. How do we convey the motivations of something like this over time– a creation that destroys?
The edges of the mix decay into the distance. There was something here once, but now it is no more.
“Spike field” fades in from “Mercury,” a track of movement and clarity concerned with “memory’s long stare.” “Spike field,” then, asks what happens when that stare turns cloudy, the final moments before total darkness. The plaintive horror of the track comes from the fact that all is not lost– not yet, regardless of how far it peeks over the ledge into oblivion. As “Spike field” bleeds in, an instrument which was once a piano stabs like the last flashes of dying stars, the refuse of which lays buried underground. The notes are charred and grained, a relic from a time beyond memory. The stabs give way to recognizable notes, stumbling piano phrases struggling to reinterpret themselves and yielding to contradiction in the process. What these vibrations are trying to work out is uncertain, but they cling with some persistence. They’re trying to tell us something, trying to find the correct tone–but to say what?
The sound pulls away into the distance. This is when Maria BC steps in to provide a translation, their voice almost overpowered by the grand piano. And with their final word, almost inaudible as whispered-sung, the message, spun out through time, is unmistakable: