Worried about being too dependent on technology? Many people cannot imagine an hour without checking devices, a whole year without the Internet. But singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane did and created music after the experience. On April 4th, he will perform his album “Magnificent Bird” at the Ferst Center for the Arts on the Georgia Tech campus. Kahane joined City Lights host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to share her thoughts on life inside and out. online metaverse and where his music fits into the larger conversation.
Highlights of the interview:
Kahane’s year without internet:
“I have to start in 2016, when, a few weeks before the election in November, I decided to travel by train the morning after the election, regardless of the outcome… [I] boarded a train at Penn Station in New York that Wednesday morning and traveled less than 9,000 miles across the continental United States, chatting with strangers, primarily in the dining cars of Amtrak trains; and I decided at the last minute to leave my phone at home,” Kahane said.
“It was an extraordinary, transformative, humbling experience. It made me realize all sorts of assumptions I held about the body politic, myself, my biases and so on,” he said. Kahane then added, “There are many reasons why I decided to take a year off from the internet. But I think if I really try to sum it up as succinctly as possible, I think the internet has made it harder for us to love each other. I think the deep lack in this country right now is our ability to see ourselves in each other.”
Themes from the album created after a year of digital abstinence:
“October 2020, when I wrote all these songs, was certainly a time of turmoil in this country; not just elections, but also a series of natural disasters. Coming out of this incredible season of protest and awakening … I think I was trying to do some version of the ‘great American novel’ in the song, to distill or compress all these experiences into a kind of single gesture, and it was really paralyzing,” Kahane said. .
He continued: “In that last month, I decided to write a song every day to give myself permission to write about little things. And in the end, when he wrote about those little things, the world got involved. So there’s a song I’m singing about making a cup of coffee and yet I’m thinking the prospect of another terrible fire season in Oregon and the prospect of a civil war. I think the album as a whole is between these very personal experiences of grief, shame, nostalgia, redemption, and being completely mad with the world around me.
Art problem solving and rendering in distorted digital spaces:
“The idea to send students on a two-hour walk without their phones came from a class last spring at Princeton called ‘Art and Change in the Panopticon’… We asked each of our eight students, some of whom were drawn to art, to create some kind of art object or art experience for another person. and did not pay attention to the others. One of the things we considered was to avoid the hassle of trying to present the work digitally online. “The other thing we thought about in this invitation was to free our students to think about scale and create art for a mass audience.”
“We invited them to go on a two-hour walk without their phones several times during the semester … and we wanted them to experience their agency without their devices,” Kahane said. “I thought it would be interesting to try to repeat this experiment [at Georgia Tech]and in that case, take those thoughts from the students and create a song that will be performed only at Georgia Tech on April 4th, only once, as a special kind of expression of the gift exchange.”
Gabriel Kahane will perform his album “Awesome Bird” and a one-off performance inspired by the offline thoughts of Georgia Tech students at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center for the Arts on April 4 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets and more information are available here.