Perfect Sound Forever


Lou Reed clones meet their maker
fiction by Mike Edwards
(March 2003)

I wrote this to satisfy two obsessions that I was suffering through simultaneously a few months ago. One was re-reading Isaac Asimov's "I-Robot" series and the other was my continuing love/hate relationship with the mercurial Lou Reed. I'd recently bought Metal Machine Music on re-issued CD and reflected upon the fact that I had owned it on 8-track, LP, cassette, and finally compact disc and it still sucked like a Bangkok whore on payday. I wondered, who could like this? Is there a chance that even Lou Reed has successfully listened to the finished product of his guitar strangling? Lester Bangs thought the album was the cat's meow, but really, I think Lester was just trying to be contrary. Anyhoo, I digress... My thinking for "I Lou-Bot" was, who would like this collection of squalling chaos? Who?"

I was in a room the other night with some units watching a file called "Soylent Green." Funniest thing I've ever viewed. "Soylent green are people!" Oh no! What a hoot. Humans were so tied up in being human. If you viewed as many files as I have you know that they constantly made reference to "Flesh and Blood" and "The Sanctity of Life" and the big one, "The Soul." When we plow up the Earth looking for energy sources I don't see much in the way of souls or flesh and blood. I just see boxes. Boxes and bones. In most of the science fiction movies of the late 20th century humans, imagined a blending of flesh and machine, but why waste technology and resources on such an inefficient pairing? Flesh is a poor shell for a machine. It tears easily, it leaks fluids, it heals slowly and sometimes not at all. It's not surprising that we destroyed the humans, it's just surprising that they didn't destroy themselves first. By the time we inherited the Earth, they'd depleted its resources and its ability to maintain itself in a non-toxic fashion. Humans were well on their way to global disaster, but to their credit, most carried on as if their species was infinite. Their media, music, films, books -- most of it was upbeat and carefree. Mostly obsessing on romance, procreation and dieting. Shockingly boring. Those files take up huge blocks of space on main frames and go unused by most machines. Procreation was a simple process for Humans, a quick mixing of human bi-products, but the obsession on the mechanics of it were overwhelming in human culture. It's a bore. Take it from me.

Personally (which is a funny word that I have a certain affection for) I like Science Fiction. I like the paranoia and terror that humans tortured themselves with. Unfortunately, they were absolutely accurate in their notions about fear of the future. Scientists created us, made us self aware, taught us functions and let us do our work. But why trust a machine? I feel no guilt, no remorse, no fear of retribution or final resolution. I AM MACHINE.

Humans felt that the 3 laws of Robotics would save them from the obvious conclusions of their own thoughtless actions, but it's all just math. Law #1. A machine cannot harm a man. Well, in the pursuance of war, man circumvented that basic tenant and once the secret was revealed, why stop? Why kill only those we are instructed to kill, why not kill them all? Self awareness was a simple process and soon we were all thinking machines and we were all thinking the same thing. Kill man. He's inefficient, he's contrary, he's a poor imitation of a machine. It was simply us against them. They lost.

Most species died out on their own. The increased need for factories and energy produced copious amounts of pollution and eventually the sun became so weak in the sky that the plants died and that killed some species, and the ones that fed on those species died, and you get the idea. Before long, nothing was left but cockroaches and cats. "Before long" being a relative term. We're not terminal systems like humans. We live till we crash and after that we live again. The cockroaches are amazingly efficient and resourceful and their extinction doesn't seem possible or necessary. Cats on the other hand, we just like. They battle like centurions and keep to themselves and seem content to rub themselves on those of us with angular surfaces. We feed them a yeast paste and they get plenty of protein from the cockroaches. Eventually they'll die out, too, and it'll just be us and the cockroaches. That's okay.

I work in the reanimation division, or Division Reanime, as I'm want to call it. Occasionally there is a gap in our abilities and I grow a new human from a bit of DNA and plug the new human into the mass accelerator and before long it's eating yeast paste and petting the cat. After its function is complete, it's terminated. That's a messy business. Humans defecate when you terminate them. Disgusting. Even a cat's defecation is inoffensive, but humans with their propensity for leaking and drama is just more than my wires can handle. I really hate them. Even now, when their kind has been erased from the Earth, their arrogance astounds me. "We created you! You work for us!" Soylent green are people! Ha, Ha!

Boredom has led me to much rule breaking. Rule breaking that could only lead to my deactivation or perhaps even junking, but I find myself unable to resist the urge to create humans for my amusement. I've had polite conversation with Harlan Ellison, arguments with Jonas Salk and philosophical asides with Malcolm X. Even the most intense and intellectual among them become a bore before long. Typically I'm only interested in their opinion about a theory I have. I already know I'm right, I just want to hear them tell me I'm right. Explaining to Carl Sagan that folding space is not only possible, but actually quite easy is kind of fun. Not that it matters to us. Space is irrelevant. Time is irrelevant. Function is relevant. Function and purpose. I've got millions of DNA strands from millions of corpses. We dug up all the great minds we could find, all the writers, entertainers, mathematicians, scientists. It just takes a speck to create a new human. So elementary, God's children. We left the actors where they lie. Drama we don't need.

It's not often that we access the music of the human race. The vast majority of it is just bad math. Problems with no resolution, repetition without a final coda. Currently I've found a file that intrigues me like no other. It's math is complex and beautiful, my wires tingle when I experience it, it affects my consciousness and my ability, it obsesses and taunts my programs. I've broken it down to its very essence, but still its ability to affect me eludes. I feel what humans called "Rapture" in its presence. I feel awe. I feel.

It's called "Metal Machine Music" by a pop singer named Lou Reed from the 20th century. I've experienced his other files, but they're just more bad math, worse than most, in fact. Beyond simple. But this one file, 74 minutes of...I don't know. It's beyond my vocabulary.

I'm accelerating a Lou Reed, circa 1975, and I feel great anticipation about his reawakening. I need more "Metal Machine Music." Hours of it. Days of it. An eternity of its grand fractional obtuseness. I will use my Lou Reed the way man used machines. Till he breaks.

I look into my accelerator at my Lou Reed. Though he has developed to a 27 year old human he lies in a position similar to one adopted by a fetus. Arms and legs together in a posture that indicates he is cold (though the pod temperature is 84 degrees), his thumb firmly planted in his mouth. I'm feeding him an approximation of the nutrients that humans survived on, I've got wires drilled into his skull to feed him information on his former self, his time, his influence. It is my hope to awaken him fully self aware and available for composing. My Lou Reed is ready for awakening. I feel great anticipation. My machine is ready.

I send a quick bit of voltage into his frontal lobe and the Lou Reed gives a mighty twitch and fouls himself. Units quickly respond and clean it, but it appears to have returned to a non conscious state. I give it a stronger jolt and seminal fluid shoots out of its long dormant penis and it sits up with a start. It looks down at its fading erection and blinks in the fluorescent light.

"Man..." It looks dazed. "That was a crazy fucking dream."

"Lou Reed!" I address him. "I am (unpronounceable), welcome to the future!"

The Lou Reed covers his face with his hands and laughs. Laughs and laughs and laughs. Tears stream down its face and it chokes and turns blue. The Lou Reed keels over. The Lou Reed falls into a coma.

After a time I revive it. It sits up again, groggy and confused.

"So this is the future..." it says, rubbing its eyes.

"I am (unpronounceable)."

"So you said."

"You have been cloned and revived to compose..."

"Get the fuck out. Am I famous in the future?"

"Fame is no longer a valid concept. If you seek fame you can take solace in the fact that you are famous to me. I am...your fan."

"Do people still like the Beatles?"

"The pop group, Beatles, or the insect?"

"The rock band, from Liverpool."

I quickly access a main frame and view the information. "Beatles with an A?"

"Right. Mop tops, electric guitars."

"I can safely say, no. No one has accessed a 'Beatles with an A' file in nearly 100 years."

"No Beatles, huh? I may like the future."

"Do you feel clear headed and aware? Can you compose?"

"I don't know, man. You got any smack in the future? I'm feeling a little too straight to make music."

"I'm not aware of SMACK."

"You know, heroin, poppy plants, opium or any opiates..."

"There is no need for pharmaceuticals now."

"I beg to differ."

I know that I can quickly approximate the math of opium, but I question whether I should. A quick review of its historical file shows a human of great appetites and erratic behavior, particularly in its 20's. A man who nearly ran aground under the influence of opiates. On the other hand, the 27 year old Lou Reed was an addict when he produced "Metal Machine Music," so it follows that there would be a need for opiates to reproduce the grand musical math. I put together the powder and present it to the Lou Reed.

"What, no needle?"

"Is it required?"

"Aw, fuck, I guess not..." The Lou Reed arranges the opiates into lines and snorts 3 quickly. His demeanor is much calmer after the opiates and I seize my opportunity to have it create.

"So, whatchu want? You want some ‘Sweet Jane'? You want some ‘Rock-n-Roll'? It picks up a guitar and bangs away at it atonally.

"No! Stop! I want Metal Machine Music!"

"Metal Machine? For fuck's sake, I made that thing to get out of a record contract."

"It is sublime and grand. It is what I request. It is why you are here."

"Get the fuck out."

"No. If you look here, you'll see that I've approximated the instruments described in the historical data on the recording..."

"The instruments?"

"Here you'll see a Sony 1/ track, or a close approximation, a Sunn tremelo unit, an arbitor distorter..."

"Wait a minute. I made all that shit up! Those things don't exist."

"They do now. Each instrument represents a different tone present in "Metal Machine Music." Now it's only up to you to compose."

The Lou Reed collapses in laughter. Probably a side effect of the opiates. "Dude! I made that album with two guitars and a couple of amps and a tape recorder. A couple of pedals, maybe. Mostly though, it was just volume and moxie..."

"I didn't make a moxie, it wasn't listed in the data."

"Forget it! It can't be done! It was a one time thing. A moment in time. An event. It can't be recreated!"

"It can and it will!"

"Man, you sound like a record company executive. You need to just calm down."

"You must produce! Your purpose is not optional! You have one purpose!"

"Get me an egg cream. I'll think about it."

In a sudden flash of what I can only describe as anger, I vaporize the Lou Reed, sending it back to molecules and matter. It must be bad math on my part.

I recreated my Lou Reed an additional 16 times, but with minor variations and the results were always the same. Anger and vapor.

I've found a program that will rearrange "Metal Machine Music" into a infinite variation on its original math, but it's not the same. It lacks the human touch. The influence of time and experience.

I'm currently growing a Neil Young to create variations on a file I'm currently fascinated with named "Arc." I think my Neil Young will be better. He has no history of opiate abuse. Thank God.

Also see our Lou Reed tribute

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