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Porter Robinson's New Video Makes a Case for Hope in Cybergrunge Dystopias

The clip for Virtual Self's "Ghost Voices" continues an abstract narrative of A.I.s falling in love or something like that.

by Colin Joyce
Feb 28 2018, 6:00pm

At the end of last year, the one time Porter Robinson quietly launched a new project called Virtual Self in a huge warehouse in South Brooklyn. I wrote at the time about how the teary arcs of its trance inflections and its abstract narratives about A.I. falling in love put him at the forefront of the wave of reformed EDM kids turning introspective—finding loneliness and abjection at the heart of the big-tent dance music enterprise. That I experienced it under the towering vaulted roof of an old warehouse only echoed its themes. You are small, there are bigger forces than you in the world, and yet, here you are searching for intimacy and connection anyway.

It's something that the Virtual Self EP underscored on the whole, using ghostly drum breaks, saccharine synth work, and stuttery abstraction to draw on several decades of the music of sad machines. Today, with a new self-directed video for that EP's Ghost Voices, he imagines a future where that's all there is. The narrative remains obtuse, but humanoid holograms slowly take form in a hallucinatory space that's somewhere between physics laboratory and editing bay. CRT displays littered around the space show only static; faces are blurred by digital glitchwork. Everything's mediated by technology, real humanity seems just out of reach.

Robinson says in a press release that the project as a whole is meant to "combine three tropes from the [early 2000s] that didn’t overlap much at the time: digital abstract, arcane magic design, and digital grunge, all into a single early-aughts flavor." But the video for "Ghost Voices" in particular also evokes a whole history of anime dystopias, where the machines have won, but humankind finds a way to eke out space for connection underneath all the digitalist grit. It's the sort of space you might stumble upon in the existentialist action RPG world of NieR:Automata, or the lonely post-industrial landscapes suggested by Oneohtrix Point Never's Zones Without People, all given the suggestion of hope by the low-key swoon of Robinson's synth programming.

All of which is to say, watch the video for "Ghost Voices" up above and if you've somehow not checked the EP yet, please do that its the sort of quiet epic that makes following this sort of dance music worth it.

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