Misanthropy, Brainwashing, and Society: An Analysis of Boards of Canada's Geogaddi

Superb albums, which provide a long duration of playability and excitement, are the types of work which create a soundscape and atmosphere that makes room for the listener to discover something new upon each listening experience. Boards of Canada recorded a work that does just that, last year's Geogaddi. The album remains fresh on repeated listens not only because of the dense layers of textured sound and abstract structures, but also because of the covert message and ideas which allow the listener to interpret the meaning of the artist's expression. Not only is Geogaddi an innovative, creative, and extraordinarily recorded ambient electronic/IDM/psychedelic album, but the amount of different layers of simultaneous expression and stimuli reveal underlying themes which pontificate to an audience willing to read between the lines. The following is my interpretation of Geogaddi, which I hope will open the minds of individuals who either own or have listened to the album. Better yet, I hope reading about an artist recording works so innovative, surreptitious, and intrinsically deep will encourage the reader to listen to the album. Geogaddi, essentially, is a work about the relationship between man and spirituality, the supernatural and the pragmatic, and nature and technology - each citing the different reactions humans have toward the surrounding phenomena.

Geogaddi contains 23 songs - ten traditional duration songs (three to five minutes), with the remaining tracks serving as sonic experiments or segues between movements. The first regular length track is called "Music is Math." This title is an indicator that many of the mathematic hypotheses proposed for interpretive value could have merit. The genesis of the harmony flushes around the verbal sample "the past inside the present." This is actually a school of postmodern philosophical thought whose origin can be traced back to a German Marxist playwright named Bertolt Brecht who lived during the early 20th century. Brecht's plays included Mother Courage and The Life of Galileo. What made his work distinct was the fact that he didn't want his audience to feel emotions - he wanted them to think - and towards this end, he determined to destroy the theatrical illusion, and, thus, that dull trance-like state he so despised. Formulaic art and conformity among the collective psyche began to fuel a misanthropic distaste within Bretch for his post-WWI society. His radical thoughts, often anti-religious, caused his books to be burned worldwide, and ultimately, led to his self-exile. "The past inside the present" reflected Brecht's realization that "the rapidity of change and the increase of knowledge in the modern world have forced us to see history in a new light: not as a finalized past but as a process in which the new continuously transfigures the old." The philosophy of Boards of Canada parallel Bretch's world view, which suggests the connection between Bretch and Boards of Canada may not be coincidental. Both Marcus and Michael of the Boards are known for their separatist tendencies and anti-censorship views. Though their music conjures up a wide spectrum of emotions, they make thinking music, and want the audience to think introspectively, as well as worldly, toward the messages they wish to abstractly convey between the lines. What exactly is their message?

One of the first things one probably notices is the album artwork. The cover features various shades of orange, with a hexagon on the front. Around the perimeter of the hexagon, human figures and trees hold hands around the polygon. The human figures engaging with trees represent a recurring theme of nature vs. mankind in the Boards' music, ranging from samples in the music, to the titles themselves (which are most prominent on their sophomore release Music Has the Right to Children). Their reclusion in the country and obsession with the wilderness can be found through the titling of their 2000 EP A Beautiful Place Out in the Country, which also acts as a reference to the latter discussed Amo Bishop Roden. Their Bretch-influenced criticism of human behavior derives partly from society's disrespect of nature. The segue track "Energy Crisis" feature a sample of a 1979 public service announcement discussing the possibility of energy shortages in the future due to societal squandering. The hexagon itself features a luminescent glow which creates a sun-like effect, renowned sacredly as the provider of light and often represented as a god-like entity in many indigenous religions. The Boards' recording studio is named "Hexagon Sun." The religious symbolism soon takes a darker turn with a keen eye. One may notice demonic, sinister faces in the trees. There are six of these faces. There are also six human figures around the hexagon, which is a six sided polygon (666). After observing the artwork, one may put the album in a CD player and notice the duration of the music after the disc is scanned. The total playing time is 66:06, or 66'6" written nautically. This type of disturbing imagery appears in the music too, most notably in "You Could Feel the Sky" (with the sky also being a symbol of "heaven," "nature," or "god"). Around the two and a half minute mark, an indiscernible sample plays forward with the minor and fluttering echoes of crackling fire and the ringing of church bells. When this sample is played backwards, the vocal track reveals "a god with horns... a god with hooves." This description can be paralleled with a number of mythological characters, but the one people probably relate most with this is Satan, particularly in combination with the sound of fire coinciding with church bells.

Geogaddi, however, examines more than just Satan. Many God references, such as the sky, the sun, and mother nature, are spread throughout the recording. The track "The Smallest Weird Number" has been intriguing me for a while. I'm not a huge math person, but I remember discussing abundant numbers before. An abundant number is when the proper divisors add up to more than the original number. So for 70: 1+2+5+7+10+14+35 = 74, which of course, is more than 70, so it can be described as abundant. If there was some subset of these same numbers 1, 2, 5, 7, 10, 14, 35 which added up to 70, then 70 would be said to be semi-perfect. However, it doesn't work that way for 70. Any other abundant number under 70 is also semi-perfect, but 70 is not, which yields it as the smallest weird number. Some have pointed out that 70's significance can be pinpointed to the name of their label Music70. One could find that answer sufficient, but one could also interpret a deeper meaning, since the Boards have already establish mathematics as a communicative tool in Geogaddi. First, review the album's tracks. There are 23 tracks total. Out of these tracks, ten are regular length songs. The other tracks on the album are one minute segues or sonic experiments. This leaves ten songs. Take the number ten and divide it into the smallest weird number. 70/10 = 7. Seven is a biblical number, a number used when describing God. Man is 5, Satan is 6, and God is 7. Focusing less on the satanic imagery and more on the godly themes, "You Could Feel the Sky" features epic and tribal (sacred) beats, and sounds like the "pounding of the sky" in a sort of Godly manner. "Sunshine Recorder" also has covert themes of God. A sunshine record, intuitively, records sunlight, and is used by geologists in study. The solid glass sphere focuses the sun's rays to an intense spot on a card placed in the spherical mount behind the sphere. The focused sunlight burns a trace on the card as the sun moves across the sky. This light, as described in Genesis, was created by God on the first day in his seven day creation, noting seven as a significant number. Light itself, when refracted through a prism, breaks up into the visible spectrum of light, also known as a rainbow. The visible spectrum contains seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. In the song "Music is Math", one can hear a faint voice during the song's breakdown exclaim "PURPLE," which, of course, is the color in which violet and indigo originate. In the same song played at half speed, "RED" is faintly repeated for a few seconds. In "Alpha and Omega," a female's voice whispers "YELLOW." "Alpha and Omega" is also a Godly theme, creating the analogy of God being the beginning and end, utilizing the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet. The album's cover is "ORANGE" and the back cover is "BLUE." Such light comes from the sun, reflecting again the hexagon cover coinciding with the theme of nature and God. Returning to the track listing again, with "Magic Window" being a track of complete silence, there are 22 tracks of music. There are also 22 chapters in Revelation, a book of the Bible written in clandestine code, like Geogaddi, about the eventual end of the world due to the world's sin - reflecting the Boards' skepticism of humans' treatment of nature. So are Boards of Canada some sort of religious fanatics or is this a sardonic joke? Marcus Eion of the Boards himself may shed some light:

"I do actually believe that there are powers in music that are almost supernatural. I think you actually manipulate people with music, and that is definitely what we are trying to do. People go on about hypnotizing people with music, or subliminal messages and we have dabbled in that intentionally. Sometimes that's just a bit of a private joke, just to see what we can sneak into the tracks."

The supernatural phenomenon of subliminal messages, as well as the reactions by those of demanding religious fervor, fascinates Boards of Canada. Their own insertion of such messages acts as a sarcastic musing, social commentary, as well as connect some of the themes of the album, providing a psychological segue. Movies Theaters were one of the first establishments known to use subliminal messages aimed at a mass audience - utilizing flashes of words and images to encourage the audience to purchase items at the concessions. Judas Priest was subpoenaed in 1990 on charges of creating subliminal messages encouraging children to commit suicide. Subliminal messages are considered by alarmist factions as a medium of brainwashing. Many ideas constructed by Nikola Tesla were considered to create brainwashing technology during the Cold War. There were reports of electromagnetic disturbances of radio transmissions in Europe that seemed to be coming from somewhere in the former Soviet Union. There is a good record of these disturbances and some had alleged that that the Soviets were testing a Tesla Transmitter that was supposed to yield limitless supplies of energy by creating resonant frequencies and transmitting the energy throughout the earth. This is relevant because this same technology was used to create the "over the horizon radar," an actual military spy project in which one of Geogaddi's sonic segues shares a moniker. The Cold War theme also plays a part in "Gyroscope," in which a spiraling, abrasive beat builds around a child's voice repeating random numbers. These vocal samples were taken from The Conet Project, a documentation of transmissions from "numbers stations." Numbers stations broadcasted random numbers on the short-wave radio band, which spies utilized to communicate to each other. Numbers stations were undecipherable because no universal language existed, each communication had a different character, letter, or idea assigned to a different number for each broadcast. The thought of what such broadcasts actual transmitted is a disturbing one. This is where the themes of the supernatural and the inexplicable come in. It's a fact that brainwashing is a real phenomenon used in warfare, and it's speculated religious cults also manipulated parts of the human psychology not quite comprehendible, another fascinating theme Geogaddi touches on in two separate occasions. Themes of religious cults appear on two separate occasions: "Sunshine Recorder" and "1969."

One discovers some fascinating new textures in "1969" when partially slowed down and reversed. The track features someone speaking, but the voice is electronically phased into melody. Melodic speaking, if you will. Slowing down the voice, one discerns: "Though not a follower of ____ _______ she's a former devout Branch Dividian" The blanks, when flipped backwards, reveal the name "David Koresch". David Koresh was the leader of the Branch Dividian cult in Waco, Texas. David believed he was Jesus Christ and was able to brainwash others into believing he was the Messiah. Not everyone in the Branch Dividians believed him, one being Amo Bishop Roden, whom was featured in a documentary about the cult filmed by PBS, which is where this sample came from in "Sunshine Recorder". She described the Waco compound as "a beautiful place out in the country." "Sunshine Recorder" features a sample speaking "a beautiful place." One can assume this is Amo herself. Returning to "1969," the track time of the song is 4:19. April 19, 1993 was the date the Waco compound was torched after gunfire between the ATF and the Branch Dividians, also written as 4-19-93. The year 1969, though, makes sense only after understanding that 1969 was the year CS gas was banned by the US government against foreign enemies. This same kind of gas was used by Koresch in the Waco massacre.

Crazy shit, but what does it all mean? The topics Geogaddi touches on is fairly broad and universal. Essentially, Geogaddi is used as a tool to criticize human behavior. When looking under the surface of the music, the blatant use of satanic imagery with the satirical slant of brainwashing could alarm those who don't question its existence in the album. This reaction points out, experientially, the oft irrational behavior in society. Boards of Canada views cults the same as they view religion: ritualistic ideas that can sometimes seem archaic and defy logic. Though religion is not the genesis of the problem, it is the human interpretation of something as sacred as a god or a holy book which perpetuates and exemplifies war and civil strife. It is human greed that causes people to exploit the mind for less than noble purposes. It is humans that have bit the hand feed them, destroying nature and our environment. It is humans which upset the delicate balance of the world's binary oppositions, the extremes that paradoxically create order out of chaos. This is probably why the Boards of Canada, like Bretch, have chosen to go into self-exile. The name Geogaddi, directly translated, means "geo" - the earth, "gad" - to run wild, "di" - two, twice, again. So Geogaddi can mean "the earth to run wild again." The book of Revelations describes this occurring through God's wrath of fire. Of course, it could be the fallacy of humans that ultimately create the decay of our species. Without humans inflicting horrors onto the planet, nature is free to run wild again. This is just my interpretation. Of course, my interpretation is based solely on my perspective. Perspective can blind you, or skew your view of the world. I encourage you to listen to the album and ascertain your own interpretation. This is the whole point of Boards of Canada placing this message in their music. They hid this message for those who are willing to look for deeper meanings, to determine one's own definition of the world around you. These people are the audience Boards of Canada were aiming for. Boards of Canada want you to question the status quo, and to free your mind - let yourself wander into the unexplored regions of man, the earth, and our imaginations.

back, i say