Ending the year on a note of unsettling calm, I guess? Along with these seven, another memorable moment for me in terms of standout art experiences this year was watching Lawrence Lek’s short film Geomancer at Shanghai’s ALL club in November. The film is told from the perspective of an artificially intelligent satellite that falls to earth in 2065, just in time for the Singapore centennial, when the city-state seems to be one of only a few high-tech refuges against the onslaught of rising sea levels.
A premise central to the film is that as AI rises to best humans at virtually every human-oriented task (it opens with color commentary of an AI crushing a human Go master), “Art” is earmarked as the last bastion of truly human culture, to the extent that near-future humans have passed laws categorically stating that art made by AIs can’t be art.
This theme pervades Geomancer as a sort of meta-narrative, and is subtly reinforced by the music, swirling soft synth pads and glitchy substrates that hold the images together like connective tissue. The Geomancer soundtrack was composed by Lek, who in addition to video production and architecture has a background in electronic music production. It was released in the form of a metal USB card at the ALL screening by Eternal Dragonz, a pan-Asian label with nodes across North America and Australia.
Though Lek was pretty tired of talking about Geomancer by the time I got to him with some questions, he shared some thoughts about his multiple trips to China this year, and on the Geomancer OST, which you can stream here:
Radii: You premiered Geomancer in Beijing, and just showed it again in Shanghai. Did you notice any difference in the audience or reception in these two places? What about elsewhere you’ve shown the film?
Lawrence Lek: One thing I noticed is that a few questions from the Chinese audience touched on the presence of Guanyin (Buddhist goddess of compassion, adapted into a self-help AI for Geomancer), and the parallels between Buddhist and Daoist thought and post-human consciousness. I used Buddhism not as a token to symbolise non-Western thought, but rather deeper aspects of immateriality that make sense when talking about AI and virtual worlds. For example, how the Buddhist doctrine of non-self relates to a consciousness without a body — like an AI.
Of course there are also more subtle linguistic aspects that are noticed by the Chinese audience, like the voice of the Dealer AI in Cantonese, versus Geomancer, who speaks Mandarin. This is to represent the cultural implications of the use of dialect versus national “universal” language, as well as the influence of HK films like God of Gamblers.
I’m glad these different audiences noticed these more subtle aspects.
Still from Geomancer
You drew from your music background to compose the soundtrack/soundscapes in the film. Did this shape the overall creative process in a way that gives it a different feel or narrative flow from some of your previous works, like Sinofuturism?
Sinofuturism was made using a collage mentality; I searched for “China + Technology” online and wove together the video essay reflecting what I found. However, Geomancer is a more deliberately composed and constructed work, where every element was deliberate. I wanted the soundtrack for Geomancer to guide the emotional tone for the computer-generated imagery, to evoke feelings and memories that weren’t synthetic but more organic somehow.
So I hope the soundtrack’s release on Eternal Dragonz has a parallel life of its own, that the sounds and songs can evoke the same questions and atmospheres of the film.
Buy/stream Lawrence Lek’s Geomancer OST via Eternal Dragonz