Have you ever worried about over-reliance on technology? Not many people can imagine spending an hour without checking devices, let alone spending an entire year without the internet. But singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane did just that and created the music after the experience. He will perform the album “Magnificent Bird” at the First Center for the Arts, on the campus of Georgia Tech, on April 4. Kahana joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to share his thoughts on life in and out of the online metaverse and where his music fits into the broader conversation.
General Kahane without the Internet:
“I must begin in 2016, when, a few weeks before the election in November, I decided that I would take a train ride, regardless of the outcome, the morning after the election… [I] board a train at Penn Station in New York that Wednesday morning and travel just under 9,000 miles around the continental United States, talking to strangers, primarily in food carts on Amtrak trains; “I decided at the last minute to leave my phone at home,” Kahana said.
“It was an extraordinary, transformative, humbling experience. It made me realize all kinds of assumptions I had about the body politic, about myself, my biases, etc.,” he said. Kahana later added, “There are so many reasons why I stopped using the Internet for a year. But I think if I were to really try to sum it up as succinctly as possible, I think the Internet makes it difficult for us to love each other. I think the big deficit Right now in this country is our ability to see ourselves in each other.”
Topics from an album created after a year of digital abstinence:
“October 2020, when I wrote all these songs, it was of course a period of great chaos in this country. Not just elections but an intertwined series of natural disasters. Coming out of this amazing season of protest and awakening… I was trying, I think, to make a version of The “Great American Novel” in the song, to try to extract or compress all these experiences into some sort of individual gesture, Kahane recounted:
He continued, “In that last month, I made the decision to write a song every day as a way to give myself permission to write about little things. And in the end, in writing about those little things, the world intrudes on them. So there’s a song where I sing about making a cup of coffee, and with That I’m also thinking about the possibility of civil war, I’m thinking about the possibility of yet another horrific fire season in Oregon. And I think the album as a whole navigates these personal experiences of grief, shame, nostalgia, redemption, and the world around me getting completely insane.”
Addressing the Problems of Art and Giving in Distorted Digital Spaces:
“The idea of sending students for a two-hour walk without their phones arose from his class last spring at Princeton entitled ‘Art and Change at the Panopticon’…We asked each of our eight students, some of whom had a focus in the arts and others who did not, To make some kind of art thing or artistic expertise to someone else. And one of the things we had in mind was avoiding the problem of trying to present work online digitally. Another thing we were thinking about on that call was freeing our students from thinking about scale and making art for a large audience.”
“We invited them several times during the semester to go for a two-hour walk, without their phones… and wanted them to try their own agency without their devices,” Kahana said. “I thought it would also be interesting to try to repeat this experience [at Georgia Tech]And, in that case, take these ideas from the students and create a song that will be performed at Georgia Tech only on April 4th, just once, as a certain kind of expression, I think, for the exchange of gifts.”
Gabriel Kahana will present his album “Magnificent Bird” and a one-off song inspired by the reflections of Georgia Tech students offline at Georgia Tech’s First Center for the Arts on April 4 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets and more information are available here.