by Steven W. Schuldt, Geek Goddess, Semptember 30, 2000
Our incipient Geek Goddess interviews section is ready to go and to that end we've managed to get some time with electronic music legend Elaine Walker of ZIA. Part pop band, part electro-industrial outfit, part pro-space lounge act, for the last decade ZIA have been performing a wholly unique kind of music. Using hand-crafted electronic instruments to write and perform complex, microtonal pop songs inspired by space exploration, the writings of Zecharia Sitchen and Elaine's dreams, ZIA remain an experience unlike any other.
Happy to build drum kits out of circuit boards, chat up space luminaries, hack C code, and make a holy racket at rock clubs, Elaine been called a genius, a goddess, and for all we know a geek as well.
She is joined for this interview by ZIA keyboardist, percussionist and backing vocalist Liz Lysinger.
Q: You've never spoken much about your childhood growing up in Las Cruces (New Mexico). What was that like? Do you have siblings?
Elaine: When I was really young I thought the rest of the world was a southern New Mexico style desert. I had no idea how many trees there were in the world. Luckily, being raised by two math professors who had conferences to go to, we got to travel here and there, so I got a good dose of culture. Otherwise I may have continued to think the world was a giant desert.
I have two brothers and a sister. I'm the baby, Dan is two years older, and Diana and David are ten years older then Dan and me. Diana and David both got married and moved out quite young, so living with them is slightly foggy in my memory, however, we've grown closer in the past few years. Dan and I are the musicians. My mother, who plays piano, clarinet, viola, and sings, started Dan in piano lessons at age 8. I was jealous and insisted on having lessons, so I started at 6. Dan quit his lessons shortly thereafter and I continued to take piano lessons for about 8 years. Dan is now the most excellent self-taught rock/jazz player I've ever seen in my life. His hands are like gigantic precision piano machines.
I also had ballet, gymnastics, violin and cello lessons, though the majority of my time was spent with dance and piano. At some point towards the end of elementary school my mother told me it was time to choose between dance and music lessons. Music seemed to be the obvious choice for me.
When I was 14, I decided I needed a synthesizer, and I miraculously found a Roland JX3P that had the extra attachment with the knobs. That's when I discovered resonance and filter sweeps. I immediately joined the first band I could find. They were called Obsidian - a cheesy cover rock band. We played parties and church dances complete with dry ice, and we even played out in the desert with a generator. But we did play a few of my original songs, and I got to sing those, so that was a good start.
Then came a string of punk bands. I played bass parts on my synths and tried to add extra noises. It was like I was unknowingly trying to make it into 'industrial' music. I was really bored playing just bass parts alone and I had all of these cool sounds to play. I was also into bands like New Order at the time too. In college, my group of friends toggled between the punk world and the more electronic "new wave" world. In New Mexico there wasn't enough either crowd, so the punks and new wavers hung together (basically all the freaky-looking fashion-conscious people that wore eyeliner).
I sang a little bit; a few songs in Obsidian and a few in the other bands, and then in 1986 I joined up with a fellow singer/songwriter/guitarist named Scott Parsons and we formed "Schizoid Aria". Schizoid because he sang the songs he wrote and I sang the songs I wrote. We went back and forth. That was a great band. Very prolific. We didn't last long because I moved away to college, but we recorded lots of songs. I should release them someday. After that I had a band called Blue Cartoon. We didn't play out much, but I have a whole slew of songs I recorded then as well. Cheesy 80's sounding stuff.
Q: You've dedicated your adult life to creating a fusion of two over-arcing passions: experimental music and space exploration. Is it possible for you to point out two moments in your life when these passions might have been born?
Elaine: When I was in 8th grade, my classical piano teacher suggested that I either go on to be a concert pianist or quit taking lessons. She only preferred to keep students that go on to play piano professionally. My heart really wasn't into becoming a concert pianist, and I was distracted with junior high and becoming a troublemaker and so on, so I stopped taking lessons. But then I didn't know what to play after that. I would sit at the piano and play the same classical pieces over and over because no one was forcing me to learn anything new. I was bored with that, so I eventually started trying to write my own songs. I was also heavily into Billy Idol at the time, and he did influence me greatly. I wanted to be the female version of him. Then one day it dawned on me that I wanted that synthesizer.
Space...I was interested in space when I was younger, but it wasn't as powerful. Then I got a D in astronomy in 8th grade. It was actually a big deal because up until then I had gotten straight A's and B's. 8th grade was a real turning point. Things really went downhill. At any rate, many years later, when I was just getting onto the internet, around 1991 or so, I subscribed to all of the newsgroups that interested me. They were things like cryogenics, longevity, futurist stuff, extropianism and space. I got on Rick Tumlinson's email list (of the Space Frontier Foundation) and he sent the "Frontier Files". One after another, he sent emails explaining why we need technology and need to go into space and spread outward. If I can single out one person that got me into space, it is that man. I recently met him in person when I sang at a space conference in Vegas. I told him that it was his Frontier Files that opened my eyes and he was very pleased. One other defining moment was in 1994 when the Mars Observer just disappeared. It upset me in a horrible way. None of my friends, and no one at work even knew that anything had recently flown to Mars. That is when I realized just how much it all meant to me.
Q: By pushing so hard the idea that "space migration is our only salvation", ZIA can be thought of as a kind of technical Gnostic music -- the only heaven to be had is here and now and is simply waiting for us to seize it. What was your religious upbringing like?
Elaine: I'll start with religion. When I was very young I recall a day when my mother told me, "Sweetie, the Earth was not made in seven days...Your father and I don't know if there is a god...there is no theorem to prove it...the bible is not literal." My dad would say, "Why does anyone need religion to be a good person, why can't you just be a good person?" And I took these words to heart. My mother and her first husband (she was widowed) were so poor they couldn't afford to give donations when their church passed the hat. It was humiliating for them so they stopped going to church. My dad did not enjoy the strict Babtist church he went to in Huntsville Texas growing up and seemingly has had no desire to go to church since. You know, Steven, that you have opened a can of worms here.
So, I was raised by very honest and loving parents who are also very logical. How can you believe in a God when no one can prove a god to exist? I always thought that was a good point. What does it mean to "believe"? It's not that hard to fool yourself into "believing" or "having faith in" anything, really. But what does it really mean?
And what, in our minds, is a "god" anyway? Do people even know what they are believing in? It is very sad, and very primitive. We don't need this imaginary belief system to be good, moral, loving people. We can love on our own. We are intelligent and inherently good creatures! Even kitty cats can love. They don't believe in gods.
Steven, as you know, there is a whole universe (at least one) out there and it is very elegant and beautiful and mysterious. It is also rather frightening and daunting. It is both good and evil. Before the Big Bang event, the entire universe was a single symmetrical point of pure energy. Then it exploded into everything we know.
We are made of the stuff of our universe. Our universe is in all of us. Many people say that God is in all of us, and it would serve humanity well if we could gradually shift this paradigm. Our universe has all of the characteristics of a god, and if we should be worshiping anything, it should be our magnificent universe. The great mystery.
One aspect that is keeping this change from happening is the fact that people don't want to worship anything real. The universe is a real entity. It certainly exists and we can see it with our eyes. Many religions are against worshiping real objects, and this is understandable. However, the universe is not an object. It is not just physical. It includes consciousness, and involves many dimensions we do not even understand. It is everything that is.
Another idea that must be overcome if we are to have this revolution in our religious thinking, is the falsity that the universe is science. Most people do not want to worship science, and therefore it would never occur to them to 'worship' the universe. However, the universe is not science! Science is the STUDY of things in our universe, not the universe itself. However obvious this may seem, I really feel it is a problem.
In fact, the very idea of 'worshiping' the universe would seem so ridiculous to most people that the thought has never entered their minds. Many people claim to worship the Earth, so why not take it a step further and worship the entire universe in all of its mystery and all of its glory?
It is true that our perception of the universe changes in parallel with our scientific understanding, but what we want to worship, per se, is what we don't know about the universe; the great mystery that is unresolved. Once we truly understand our entire universe, and perhaps discover other universes, we will be godlike and may cease to worship. As frightening as that sounds, there is no immediate concern, for we are still truly humble in the universe's presence. We are really nowhere near being godlike.
Not only do we have much to learn about the physical universe, I don't even believe we are on the best level of consciousness. There is at least one more level of consciousness - sort of like our subconscious but different - that we are capable of if we could only concentrate hard enough. And I'm not talking about drugs - and I don't think drugs will help us find that level.
On a lighter note, straight-up science would really not be a bad thing to worship anyway. Scientific beliefs are ever changing and dynamic. Science gives way to new understanding, and always reaches outward (and inward!). At least if you do worship science, you know you are not in a cult!
Now, why reach out to the stars and migrate into space? One reason is in the name of science, and our new "universal religion". If our universe is our god, then reaching out into the universe and making new discoveries is a way of discovering God.
On a more down to Earth level, humans are creatures of exploration, and have been since time immemorial. Our instincts tell us to push outwards and discover new territory, not only for survival reasons, but to create new challenges for ourselves. Evolution truly happens when we subject ourselves to uncomfortable situations. New tools, mathematics, agriculture, and even art, are the results of migration into new and dangerous territories.
On a patriotic and social level, our country will stagnate if we don't continue to explore. On the most basic level, space migration can be a great social cause. The United States has never been better prepared to lead the world in international cooperation into space. We will have a new president, a newly elected congress, and a new millennium - a great symbolic time for a new beginning. We are fairly well off economically and have no world wars to occupy our time and resources. If we don't seize this delicate moment in time to reach out into the stars (and Mars is the first obvious step), we may not get another chance for generations to come.
Q: In the past you've expressed admiration for Extropy and the Extropian Principles. To what degree do you feel those principles describe your own philosophy?
Elaine: In the early nineties, I discovered the Extropians on the internet and I subscribed to their newsgroups and mailing lists. I found that the ideas and ideals that had been swirling restlessly around in my head, fit neatly into their philosophy. They had a very fresh perspective, and it really brought a lot together for me. I never got to know the whole Extropian community, beyond the internet communication. I had a feeling they were few and far between, scattered around the world. I added their five Extropian Principles (v2.5) to our ZIA multimedia, and over the years I've frequently chanted, "Boundless Expansion! Self-Transformation! Dynamic Optimism! Spontaneous Order!"
I've recently gotten back onto their mailing list after about five years, and was disappointed to see the way they had upgraded their principles. They are now up to version 3.0. "Dynamic Optimism" has been changed to "Practical Optimism" and "Boundless Expansion" has been changed to "Perpetual Progress" and "Spontaneous Order" has been expanded into three redundant and watered down principles that are hard to even remember. It seems that the dynamic Extropians I knew in the early 90's have gotten more practical and conservative over the last several years.
Q: Also, while supporters of Extropy tend to site the work of libertarian thinkers such as Ayn Rand, advances in space science and exploration are largely underwritten by governments at the moment. NASA has fairly recently begun probing the private market in earnest for potential partnerships. How would you classify your political beliefs and what would you consider an appropriate balance between private and public funding of space exploration?"
Elaine: I would probably fall somewhere in between the Libertarian and Republican parties. I really haven't studied Libertarian beliefs enough to know if I completely fit into that category. I've been registered as an independent, just because I don't enjoy being labeled as one or the other. Most space activists seem to fall into one or the other of those two categories. The fact is, though, besides Bill Gates, or Donald Trump, or maybe Robert Bigleow, or all three put together for that matter, only NASA can afford to initiate certain costly space programs. But the key word here is "initiate", as opposed to "operate".
Within the pro-space community, there has been all kinds of bickering about which major space programs should get a piece of NASA's pie, and whether or not NASA should even be involved at all, with such things as human missions to the Moon or Mars and certain activities in low Earth orbit (LEO). Most agree that human missions to the Moon or Mars would need NASA's resources and funds because they would each cost at least 20 billion (at the very, very least). The human mission funds are currently tied up with the space shuttle and the International Space Station, and may be tied up for years to come if the Space Launch Initiative is allowed to pass. The SLI may turn out to be another X-33 debacle but worse.
At any rate, all agree that the station and shuttle should be privatized. Not only would this free up precious money for human exploration that is currently being spent circling the Earth, but the fact is, NASA is supposed to spend our tax dollars on research and development, not operations. The space station will be operational soon, and the shuttle has been for quite some time.
Well, something miraculous is happening. During the past year, as I've sung at nearly every major pro-space convention in the U.S., I have talked to a lot of key people, and have come to some conclusions. First of all, there are now at least five commercial companies planning robotic missions to the moon within the next several years. In 2001 TransOrbital is planning to send a camera around the moon, and plans to sell these pictures commercially. LunaCorp has gotten major funding from (drumroll...) Radio Shack, to send a lander rover to the moon. For a small fee - 20 dollars or so - you will be able to drive this rover via remote control from stations inside your local Radio Shack location. And there are three more moon missions that are a little bit more secretive about their plans. TransOrbital will be the very first commercial moon mission ever (besides the Hughes satellite that was swung around the moon to correct it's faulty Earth orbit).
This is all very exciting for a number of reasons. The Moon activists and the Mars activists actually agree now, for the most part, that NASA should leave the Moon well enough alone and let these and other companies create their own markets there. If NASA continues to send cameras and rovers to the moon and give the pictures away for free, then these companies who are doing the same, will not be able to sell their product. The Moon advocates and Mars advocates also agree that NASA should spend their precious money on an ongoing humans to Mars program. NASA has already sent several people to the Moon. Sending humans to the Moon was actually operational at one point in history - thirty years ago.
So, for the first time, we can band together (or at least pretend to) and openly ask the president to initiate an ongoing human to Mars mission, without stepping on the Moon advocate's toes, and will actually be benefiting commercial companies by getting 'NASA out of their way', per se. Besides maybe using the ISS as a docking point, which probably wouldn't happen, initiating a human to Mars program would certainly get NASA's human missions out of Earth's gravity well and let private enterprise find their own market's there.
The one question that is left, though, is whether the U.S. can find an incentive to spend such a large amount of money with no cold war and no immediate threat. There may be no 'patriotic' reason other than the idealistic vision of doing it as a social cause and sending humans to do science. Surely, science has to be the selling point, and it is easy to prove why humans are needed there. This country does want to continue to lead the world in technology and science, and the scientific findings we may happen upon while on Mars may be profound, but those arguments alone may not pay our way there. But it doesn't hurt to try.
Q: There was a dormant period during the mid-to-late nineties when it seemed as if ZIA was in danger of disappearing altogether. The time between SHEM and Big Bang! has been considerable. Is it correct to imagine there must have been more to this than simply problems associated with the decision to sign with the ill-fated Fifth Colvmn?
Elaine: Okay, let me talk about the period between SHEM and Big Bang!. SHEM was originally released in 1995 on Young American Records. After one three week Northeast tour, Young American went out of business. The reason for their demise was that they were using the facilities of Performer Magazine, and Performer underwent a hostile takeover. At any rate, it wasn't long at all before we were talking to Fifth Colvmn. They were going to release a full length for us, but wanted to re-release SHEM first... so they did, in early 1996. Once again, we did a 2 1/2 week tour, except this time we went Southeast. In April of 1996 I got married to Dan Mullen, guitarist of Cobalt 60. We had been living together for a couple of years, and for about a year, had been watching his two little boys, Shane and Dylan (2 and 4 at the time we got married) on the weekends. I changed my name to Mullen, but shortly thereafter decided to keep Elaine Walker as my stage name. This would cause all kinds of confusion down the road.
Toward the end of the year, when we finally got some money from Fifth Colvmn to record our full length CD, our drummer spent all of the money on ecstasy. That was a fiasco. He was the drummer we had for 4 1/2 years. He had put a lot of energy into the band, so after we got the money back, we sort of gently pushed him out of the band. That ended our 4 1/2 year stint with an acoustic drummer. Shortly after he was out, another band member quit to pursue his own musical project. This left me with the one band member who wasn't very driven, and he simply faded away into the deep dark void of band members lost...
Around that time I had discovered that the National Space Society had a local chapter in Boston and started attending the monthly meetings at M.I.T. So here I was...married, an instant stepmom, bandless, and record label-less. It was a strange time for me. Things were stagnating in my music career, but I suddenly had a wonderful Mullen family, and wonderful space society friends. In mid 1997, a mere five months after I started going to the meetings, they elected me president. So, as all of this was very emotional for me, I decided it was time to take a break from ZIA for the first time since 1992. Now, I am not the kind of person who takes breaks. I was doing an experiment that I had never tried before. When something is going all wrong, just step back, stop trying so hard, and see if things naturally fall into place. That was very hard for me.
A couple of months or so later, an x-ZIA member, Dan Weingartner, expressed his wish to work with me again. He brought along his friends and fellow Berklee students, Philip Levy and Gia Catalucci and I had an instant band! Now, that line up only lasted for one show. Dan and Philip were both using laptops (one Mac and one PC) and were syncing everything to everything and it really went against my philosophy of electronic bands - the simpler and more robust the better. Liz Lysinger, another fellow music synthesis student, had been expressing her desire to work with us, but apparently I had been ignoring her because I already had too many band members with too much equipment. Gia and I decided to ask Dan and Philip if we could replace them, along with all of their gear, with Liz. In fact, that may have actually been Dan's idea. I can't even remember, the transition went so smoothly. They were completely cool with the idea, and thus was born the first all-girl ZIA line-up.
I decided not to be so snobby about the instrumentation as I had in the past, in the interest of keeping this cool new lineup I had. So, I let "Gia from Zia" play her flute and let Liz play an actual keyboard. They both also hit the circuit boards and Drum Kats with sticks, and I had my new homemade ZiaDrum, and we were all very happy. Our new drummer was a $1.50 CD-R full of rhythmic backing tracks, and we never had any trouble from him. Well, there WAS that one time, during a show, when I made a wise crack about drummers, and our "CD drummer" suddenly started skipping. Bad karma, I guess. Apparently, even CD drummers have feelings.
In October of 1998 I left my husband. Long, painful story. Simply put, I think I made him lazy, and now that he's recovered from the shock, he is much better off. Cobalt 60 had broken up while we were married and he also had continued stress about never having enough money for his kids. But since he's been single again, he has opened himself to change, and miraculous things have happened to him. Cobalt 60 has gotten back together and is being signed by a large indie. He has a very well paying job that he enjoys and has more than enough to help raise his two wonderful boys. I am still in contact with the boys who live with their mother in Virginia, and drive down to visit now and then. At any rate, leaving him was painful, and extremely frightening for me. ZIA was actually gigging extensively at the time, and it was hard. I was beyond taking out frustrations during shows, I was flat out depressed. I moved in with Liz in January 1999, and that was the start of my new beginning.
Liz was going to graduate that spring with a dual degree in Music Synthesis and Film Scoring. Suddenly, it seemed, were going to have nothing tying us to Boston anymore. We decided to move to New York City and I even applied for graduate school at NYU, but Gia was still in school at Berklee. Hae Young Kim had been wanting to join the lineup, but we thought that having four girls would be too much female energy. However, Hae Young was also going to graduate in the spring (with a dual degree in Music Production & Engineering and Music Synthesis) and was open to the idea of moving to New York City. Gia had no qualms with being replaced by Hae Young, and that was that.
Hae Young really got thrown into it. Her second show ever with us was in Houston, TX, at the main banquet for the International Space Development Conference. We were invited to play there, most likely, since I was the president of the Boston Chapter of the National Space Society (NSS) and this was NSS's yearly conference. The Houston chapter of NSS had heard my two songs I wrote for the NSS song writing contest, and were daring enough to actually have a live electronic band at their banquet. They should be commended for having the first pro-space conference to have this type of live entertainment. These conferences tend to be very dry and formal. There were Apollo 10 astronauts there, and Buzz Aldrin, and Bruce Boxlightner (captain of Babylon 5). We were nervous. In fact, it was so nerve wracking playing in front of 400 men and women in suits from NASA and various organizations and companies, sitting at those big, round, formal banquet tables, that I knew I would never be nervous again for any type of musical performance after that. But, at the same time, I was in heaven. I was playing space music to the space people. Once our set was underway, I found myself cracking space jokes and telling stories that only this audience would understand. No one in the underground Boston music scene would have known what I meant by, "We'll need a new Carl Sagan. Who will it be? ... How about Robert Zubrin?" (the already infamous leader of the humans to Mars movement, former Martin Marietta engineer) I heard a group of men growl enthusiastically, "YEAHHH!!!!! Robert Zubrin!" Then I heard a faint, "Steven hawking!" ... I couldn't hear... "Who?" "Steven HAWKING!" I heard that time. I replied, "Steven Hawking is Steven Hawking. He doesn't need to be Carl Sagan!" And then I heard the cheers... Yes, I was in heaven.
At the end of that summer, we moved to Brooklyn and were solidifying plans to release "Big Bang!" on a new label called Gig Records (two men from TVT who started their new label in New Jersey). Our remix of "Video Killed the Radio Star" was supposed to be their first release, on white vinyl, with a remix of our remix done by DJ Frankie Bones on the B side. Then they were going to release it on an 80's compilation CD, and then finally release "Big Bang!". We even did a new version of Video Killed the Radio Star, which was the last thing I felt like doing, with Liz's voice on the chorus. Gig never did release it. They also never released the 80's compilation, or "Big Bang!" for that matter. They took forever. The other electronic band on the label also noticed that they kept getting put at the end of the line. I had put a lot of effort into recording "Big Bang!". It was already done and ready to be mastered, in my mind, but Gig talked me into re-recording the songs that had acoustic drums, using all electronic drums and sampled loops. He wanted me to work with Michael Farrentino and Andres Karu (formerly of Love in Reverse) who were in another Gig Records band called Amazing Meet Project. So, I did. I had driven back and forth from Boston to New Jersey at least eight times to finish re-mixing half of the songs with new drums and a few new parts, plus Video Killed the Radio Star. I must say, working with Michael and Andres was a joy. Never have I ever worked with other producers in such a seamless, agreeable way. SHEM was fun to mix with Peter and Jeff of Think Tree (my favorite Boston Band at the time), but at that time I had my drummer's opinions to contend with as well, and there was more debating going on than mixing at times.
So, we had our newly improved "Big Bang!" CD waiting and collecting cobwebs. Meanwhile I had been invited to sing solo at several different pro-space conventions, which was the result of our ZIA performance in Houston the year before. It was simply too expensive to bring the whole band and all of our equipment to every one of these things, so we decided I should just make this my solo act. This was going to be the beginning of my career as the traveling pro-space singer. I had compiled a CD of the "pro-space-lounge" versions of the songs I was going to sing at these conventions, and talked to Gig about that CD. I called it Frontier Creatures and wanted it to be a fundraiser for the National Space Society. Gig informed me that they would have to take half of my profits since I was releasing it under the name of ZIA. I also had the notion of eventually making a fundraiser CD for each and every pro-space society, but did not want to give Gig half of the profits for these efforts that had nothing to do with them. For this reason, and the fact that they were taking forever to release Big Bang!, I called Gig and said, "thanks but no thanks." After a very heated and extensive discussion, I hung up the phone and thought, "Now what have you done, Elaine?" We had Big Bang released on MP3.com three days later, and for the three of us it was very empowering. Our friend Bob Gourley is funding the official release that should be out in a month or so. It has been a long haul.
Q: Big Bang! contains a number of references to Zecharia Sitchen's The Earth Chronicles. Can you talk about what those books mean to you?
Elaine: Yes, and so does our EP SHEM. SHEM means "fire rocket" in ancient Babylonian, according to Zecharia. In the Tower of Babel story, SHEM was translated as meaning NAME. They wanted to make a NAME for themselves and built this tower. Zecharia thinks they wanted to build a FIRE ROCKET for themselves so they could be like the gods. The gods had fire rockets back then! These 'gods' were the Annunaki that lived on the planet Nibiru, our 10th planet. The Sumerians called Nibiru the "12th" planet - they counted our sun and our moon as planets as well. They also called the Earth the "7th" planet because they counted form the outside in.
When I read his book The 12th Planet in the early nineties, I really was shocked. I really wanted to believe every word, but of course my skeptic mind fought against it. I do imagine that some of it has to be true. Zecharia Sitchin is one of the few people in the world that can read ancient Sumerian and Babylonian. He has exhaustively researched those tablets and artwork, dated many ancient buildings and statues, and pieced our history together in a magnificent way. He brings mythology, bible stories, and evolution together in a way in which they are ALL actually true.
It all started when planet Nibiru came flying into our solar system, billions of years ago, disrupting Neptune and Uranus's orbit. It's moons smashed into a large planet that used to be where the asteroid belt is now. Part of the mass of this large planet flew passed Mars, and became the Earth. Earth also acquired one of Nibiru's other moons. Zecharia gathered most of this from Sumerian stories and Sumerian astronomical diagrams and drawings.
According to Zecharia, the Annunaki from Nibiru needed gold for their atmosphere (Nibiru is large and dense and holds in it's own heat even though it is extremely far away from the sun most of the time). They were trying to harvest gold on the Earth and decided they needed slave labor. They upgraded the apes, merging the DNA of an ape woman with their own, to create the first humans. They eventually helped these humans to create the first Sumerian kingdoms. Zecharia doesn't know whatever happened to the Annunaki. Perhaps they'll come back some day during Nibiru's next flyby.
This all must mean a lot to me, because I've written four songs based on Zecharia's books - "Nibiru" and "Golden" from Big Bang! and "Future" and "Lie" from SHEM (and the graphics on the CD cover). Zecharia is 80 now and lives in New York City. I discovered that he is actually on my National Space Society mailing list, and I wrote to him and sent him my lyrics and songs. He wrote back and said he loves the lyrics (he doesn't have a CD player, and still uses a typewriter). I may be singing at his first official certification seminar in Santa Fe in Sept 2000. He is finally starting to certify people to speak in his place since he is aging. He wants someone to continue his legacy and his research. In fact, I've made a lounge version of "Golden" to sing for the banquet at his seminar.
The underlying meaning in all of this is that although I tend to focus on our future, and sometimes our far future in an idealistic sense, I think it is extremely important to continue to make discoveries about our past. We may have simply evolved from the stuff of Earth, or the stuff of comets, or we may have been "upgraded" by extraterrestrials. I certainly would not discount that idea, especially after scouring through Zecharia's books. We will never know unless we continue to search for the truth, and I hope Zecharia finds the right people to continue his legacy.
Q: The song "Spider" can be read as an indictment of the oppressive ubiquity of the world wide web. "And the moon is looking smeared, all the stars have disappeared/Condensation blurs my skies when the Spider's on me". People like Bruce Sterling now openly advocate shutting down the last vestiges of any manned space program and substituting things like space-based webcams that would, for example, let web surfers visually survey the weather on Jupiter at any time. To what degree do you feel that the current cultural focus on the virtual space that is the internet hurts or enhances the chances of ever seeing the "space generation" you advocate?
Elaine: Spider is actually a song about unhealthy relationships. The "spider" and her web symbolize relationships and friendships of the past that I fell into so deep I lost the sense of who I was and lost my drive to pursue dreams that are so obvious and relentless to me when I'm single. Should I just become a pro-space nun? "And it floated from her mouth, such a complicated sound, in a simple little word, how it needed to be heard" is referring to my marriage counselor, which I talked to alone most of the time. She really made it all sound simple and clear, with very few, carefully chosen words. It took a marriage and a separation for me to finally write another song about relationships...and even this song sounds like it's about a computer network? Now, the internet is a wonderful thing - spontaneous order - a rapidly growing web of communication. And I know it can go hand in hand with a desire to explore space, because I, myself, deal with both on a daily basis. And most pro-spacers spend a large portion of their life on the internet communicating and promoting their business and beliefs. I find Bruce Sterlings views by themselves, mortally depressing.
Q: "Plastic" has such a strange lyric. Sometimes I think you're singing about robots, other times I think it might be a song about sex toys! Maybe robots as sex toys!? Can you shed some light on it?
Elaine: Plastic is strange because I'm talking about my dreams. When I was in elementary school my dreams were usually lucid. I read an article in OMNI, or Discover, or one of those magazines, that explained how to control your dreams. One of the early exercises was to touch things in your dream to see what they felt like. So I did. Everything feels like plastic in my dreams. Plastic or rubbery - very synthetic.
Still to this day my dreams are like that. Maybe everyone's are and just don't realize it. That magazine article said to find a mirror and to look into it. That evening I did find a mirror and looked into it and touched my face. It was rubbery, and the room was foggy. Although I know some of my dreams are in color, I was black and white in that mirror. I remember thinking, "oh brother, the classic black and white dream scenario". Another exercise from that article was to try to tell someone in your dream that they don't exist. They are just in your imagination - part of your dream. When I tried to tell this guy he didn't really exist he got very very angry with me as you could imagine.
People in dreams are sometimes combinations of people you know, and they may morph from one person to another, or from an animal to a person. The same goes for yourself. I know sometimes I'm a man in my dream, and then I'm a small girl, but there was no line drawn; no particular moment when I changed. And sometimes you're in third person, sort of looking down upon the whole situation, and then you're involved in the plot, but again, no particular transition.
Dreams are very, very strange. I think dreams are simply a filing system for thoughts that your brain must undertake once a day to organize your conscious and subconscious mind. You know when you don't sleep for a day or two you are on the verge of hallucinating and it becomes hard to think clearly. I would suspect those hallucinations are loose brain patterns that haven't been properly filed away. Or, maybe dreams only file away subconscious thoughts (thus they are very, very strange) and if you don't sleep, it is the subconscious thoughts floating around where they don't really belong, or where we're not used to having them on a daily basis at any rate.
I wonder if there is a way to experiment with this. Is it possible to allow someone to sleep, while not allowing them to actually dream? What would happen after a week or so? Would you start behaving on a subconscious level, becoming more aware of what used to be hidden in the depths of your mind? Or am I talking craziness?
Q: You're currently working on a master's degree in music. Have you ever felt your comprehensive formal knowledge to be any kind of obstacle to be overcome? Have you ever wanted to get around your own proficiency? What drives you to keep deepening your understanding of technical aspects of music?
Elaine: Of course, I'm majoring in Music Technology, which doesn't focus much on music theory or history or anything like that, beyond having to pass proficiency exams. In school I like to focus on the weird academic stuff (when else in your life to you have an excuse to do weird academic stuff?) other than the traditional route that most of the students take. Most Music Technology students at NYU are focusing more on recording/engineering and digital audio/data transfer stuff. Some focus on DSP and software synthesis, which is a little more academic, but too much digital audio gives me a headache. I'm still a big MIDI fan - smaller files, and I can focus on the NOTES, and not so much on the sound design. As much as I like fancy sounds and do go on sound design stints now and then, I really like to focus on the melodic aspect of music; but certainly not on a traditional level though. After only one semester I found my self really reaching to find classes I wanted to take. I ended up taking two classes in another department this summer. One was called Physical Computing, and we learned how to program micro-controller chips, and to make things ranging from robots to musical instruments.
It's strange, because the more music theory I learn (and my first theory classes were in elementary school at my piano teacher's house), the more I just ignore it when I write music. I really think the music theory gets stored in a section of my brain that I simply don't access when I'm being creative. One reason I've felt so comfortable writing with microtonal tunings all these years is that it is easy for me to just throw away all of the Western harmonic music theory tradition when I'm writing. For my master's thesis, I'm doing further research into fractal music - creating music with chaos theory. Now, this is truly a new kind of music theory altogether. I'm also building an instrument, microchip and all, that is especially designed to play fractal music. I'm calling it the Chaos Controller (which is funny because our manager's company is called Chaos Control).
So, it's not so much the technical aspect OF music that I'm interested in studying, but more how to use technology FOR music - to make music and to control music during performance. Now, all I really want to take in school is C programming and more electronics, both of which I need to program microchips and build musical instruments, or to write a fractal music program from scratch (right now I use MAX primarily). But in the entire school of NYU, there is not one C or electronics class I can take beyond the undergrad electronics courses I've already taken there. I'm just learning this stuff on my own now, with the help of a few brainiac friends.
Q: I don't think I've ever seen a list of your influences. What sort of music do you listen to? Are there other artists you think of as kindred spirits to ZIA, either in the past or working today?
Elaine: I listen to my friends' bands and music that my friends play for me that they feel is important for me to hear. Influences: disco, Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, Missing Persons, Berlin, New Order, Front Line Assembly, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, Cobalt 60, Garbage, Liz Lysinger, old No Doubt and Dr. Richard Boulanger.
Q: One of the main problems people seem to have getting a handle on ZIA is the difficulty of categorizing your music. People have tried to label it variously as experimental, electro, industrial. You put yourselves under the "I give up" label of "Electronica" at MP3.com. The truth is you don't really sound like anybody except yourselves. This is great, but it creates a hell of a problem when trying to market what is basically a thrilling pop band with a potentially more broad appeal than might at first be imagined. Do you worry you might be ahead of your time?
Liz: Honestly, we don't really know how we got lumped into the Electronica category on MP3.com. We have actually sat around, trying to figure out what the heck we would be labeled as, but it is definitely hard to describe our sound without using that word, industrial. Usually, when someone asks us what kind of music we are, we all panic for a second, then look at each other in bewilderment, then give the general stock answer of electronic-pro-space-pop. That's essentially what it is, without getting too deep. I guess from there, people can make their own judgments about the fabric of the music and what it means to them. It has been an advertising irritation of sorts. Elaine will always be ahead of her time.
Elaine: As will Liz.
Q: With your drive and intelligence, it seems as if you might well have ended up working at a place like NASA or Rockwell if circumstances had been only slightly different. To what degree, if any, do you find your exclusive formal educational focus on music a gating factor on your drive contribute to the human push into space? I guess this is a wordy way of asking if you have any regrets that you hadn't tried to become a professional scientist, engineer or astronaut.
Elaine: Very good question, Steven. During the time when I became president of the Boston chapter of the National Space Society, and was bandless and record label-less, I asked myself if I would be better off switching gears entirely, and getting a degree in astronomy. I think part of it stemmed from an insecurity that my sorry excuse for a music career would really never get off the ground. I also had another newfound insecurity. Here I was, president of a space society, and was a mere musician. How would I gain respect? I also had a strong desire to understand the cosmos (and still do) in all of it's warped dimensions.
I talked to several people at the time to get advice. It was not surprising that my husband was concerned that I would just give up music for a far fetched dream. My parents (both math professors), surprisingly, were concerned with the amount of math I would have to take to even get an undergraduate degree in astronomy. I talked to astronomers who attended our space meetings, and they warned me that it was very hard to make a living as an astronomer. Just as hard as it is for a musician. Most end up teaching, in which case, I may as well just teach electronic music. But most of all, my fellow pro-spacers expressed how much they felt that my songs, like "Space Man", "Frontier Creature" and "Ad Astra" had inspired them. They assured me that I had plenty to offer the pro-space movement, with my music and enthusiasm alone.
Q: There is always a contingent of boys that, when confronted with ZIA for the first time, seem to get stuck on the fact that the band pressing this brainy agenda is driven by what looks quite like a blonde model, as if you were a contemporary Pia Zadora or something. Have you ever felt as if ZIA weren't being taken seriously because of your looks?
Liz: Well, I figure it this way. We have gotten a large amount of male fans, due to the fact that we are all women, which makes sense, really. But then the tables turn almost immediately, even before the show starts. The questions start curiously flowing in about our equipment and what it does, how it was made, and why we use these devices to perform. After a good chunk of them shake their heads in utter, 'I am going to nod and give up, now' mode, suddenly, sexy geekdom has a new meaning.
Elaine: Well said, Liz.
Q: How would you characterize the way the New York live scene operates and the way those audiences have reacted to ZIA as opposed to their Boston counterparts?
Liz: In Boston, sure, it was easier to book gigs because Elaine knew everyone who to call. The only problem was, we played at the same three clubs each time and never moved beyond that. We always had the same set crowd, which was WONDERFUL, don't get me wrong, but we did have the basic problem of not having any new faces showing up to our shows. It was hard to reach others in Boston. In New York, there are oodles of places to play and we don't have all of our friends in the audience anymore, so it has been a fabulous lesson in how to recreate an audience. Plus, I find that it is easier to get booked with bands that are more our style of music, like the eclectic Space Robot Scientists, who are always a pleasure to share a stage with. We used to play with Gothic bands, Hard Core bands, Death Metal bands, Reggae groups, Rap groups, Folk musicians, boy bands, EMO rock bands, etc. In Boston, except for Lunar Plexus and Supergenius, there weren't many other bands that fit our style of music, so it seemed like we were lumped at the bottom of the barrel with all of those other groups they didn't know who to pair up.
To really answer your question (I guess I rambled, a bit), we seem to be getting a wonderful response out of the past-quoted "cold New York scene." These folks just want to have fun and enjoy themselves, which they ultimately end up doing. They even dance a bit! Gosh, in Boston, it had to be the most sedate crowd ever, yet they kept coming back! Honestly, we have received the warmest of vibes in both audiences. They just show it differently.
Q: I'd venture that the core experience that is ZIA involves the way in which you express your wholehearted embrace of ideas that are incredibly vast in scale. Many of the themes you explore deal with ideas of infinity: infinite life extension, infinite space, infinite time, the "infinite geometry" of the big bang. The human body, and perhaps the human mind as well, have not really evolved to cope with infinities. Some of these possibilities, which seem so tantalizing on the surface, might also come quite close to many people's ideas of hell. Do these ideas and their implications, the endless vistas that surround concepts like immortality, ever frighten you?
Elaine: Infinity to me is a heaven. A never-ending space, a never-ending life, never-ending possibilities, infinite wisdom. What truly disturbs me is the idea of death.
Q: What would you say to those that advocate "fixing our problems here on earth" before bringing the issues of such a dangerously flawed species to the solar system at large and beyond?
Elaine: I say many many things to these people. In the United States, the money to mend social problems on Earth and the money to go into space comes from two entirely different budgets, so in that sense there is no need to compete. Earth bound problems are important to tend to, of course, but there are way more people tending to these problems than there are people worrying about getting humans into space. Now, if we fixed all of the problems here on Earth, which, by the way is impossible, we would truly be in hell. We would be perfect. We would be boring. We would lack any will to improve for we would have no room for improvement. We would stagnate.
In fact, going into space is a social cause. Imagine the hope and wonder a human colony on Mars would bring to inner city kids on Earth. They would know there is more to life than what they see in front of them. They would be inspired to learn math and engineering and hand-eye coordination. Going into space is an environmental cause. If we can recycle our air and fuel and grow plants on Mars, then we will learn to be more efficient here on Earth as well. Of course I could go on and on.
Q: It seems entirely likely that ZIA will prove far too unique, substantive and demanding to ever be a classic industry "success" in an era of manufactured boy bands and pop princesses. A seemingly more likely outcome is that Elaine Walker will become a sort of highly regarded curiosity, a cult figure whose recordings and memorabilia will be collected by a coterie of devoted, nerdy audiophiles decades from now. You've also begun focusing on charity work for pro-space causes. What are your aspirations for the band? What would your personal gauge of "success" for ZIA be?
Elaine: I will never be a classic success. I don't even understand the music business, nor have the right connections there. However, I feel something strange is happening to me. ZIA played at one pro-space conference in Houston in 1998, and we were invited again for 1999. Since then, I was invited by my friend Henry Vanderbilt, president of the Space Access Society, to sing at his conference in Phoenix in 1999. I basically said, half jokingly, "Henry, send me a ticket and I will go sing to your people there", and he did. He sent me an electronic ticket, and I quickly got my solo act together and sang at that conference, outside on a patio for the hospitality. I did the other conference solo as well, and after that I was invited to almost every single pro-space conference in the US, and one in Canada this year. I've sung banquets, hospitality, in the gigantic vending rooms, and for filking sessions that no one shows up to but me and an audience. I've sung during my space meetings, and will be singing for another space groups monthly meeting in October.
I compiled a CD of the pro-space-futuristic-lounge music I've been singing all year onto a CD called Frontier Creatures and made it a fundraiser for the National Space Society. And I've just released a CD called MARS that is a fundraiser for the Mars Society. I finished it just in time for the Mars Society Conference in Toronto last month. I sell 30 or 35 CD's at most conferences and the people there seem to really enjoy the extra entertainment. Besides a minimal amount of filk singing (science fiction folk), they have never seen musical performances at these conferences. They tend to be very businesslike and conservative.
When I became president of the Boston Chapter of the National Space Society, I decided that it was time to bring my music and my pro-space agenda together. And a lot of good has come out of it!
Q: The band has undergone a great number of personnel changes over the years, yet the vision and sound have both remained more or less consistent. Without taking anything away from Liz or Hae Young, fifty years from now when you're a little old lady sitting alone in her living room playing her synthesizer, will it be correct to think of that as being a ZIA performance?
Elaine: Oh, probably not...just a little old lady in her room playing a synthesizer.
Liz: I hope that if I am alive in fifty years, I will call up Elaine on whatever technology is hip at the given time and she will say, "Not now, honey! I am in the middle of a rad groove! Can't you see I'm trying to whip off that new space tourism theme?" Then I will sigh and get back to my arthritis therapy. ZIA really isn't going to change much. You have no idea how loony we can be.
FOLLOW UP DISCUSSION
Only One Elaine
by daPaleMC on Saturday October 14, @01:19AM EST (#1) (User Info) http://dapalemc.4mg.com/
...Scott Parsons a.k.a. da Pale MC here... There is only one Elaine in the entire Universe. She is the "hands down" #1, be all, end all Geek Goddess. Not only talented and beautiful, but also the most truly kind and beautiful person inside of the supermodel looks. Don't even try to fully comprehend her, just sit back in wonderment and thank whatever God/Goddess U hold dear that she exists. Oh yah, play the hell out of her on the Internet and buy ZIA cds with your allowance and we can show the RIAA types just how famous she CAN be! ...much luv... ...da Pale MC (Scott fmr. Schizoid Aria)...
Hey, it's been a long time...
by Elaine of ZIA on Wednesday October 25, @01:34PM EST (#2) (User Info) http://www.ziaspace.com
Scott, baby! It's been a long time. We really should release a Schizoid album as sort of a novelty item. Who has the masters?? Who has the funding?? ;-) How's the MC'ing going? I will be in Las Cruces for Thanksgiving and X-Mas, and in Albuquerque for Valentines Day. I have a date with a Martian Man. I sure miss you, and I'm glad we could kick off our music careers together in a Schizoid sort of way. Don't you just love this Geek Goddess site? Ad Astra, -=Elaine of ZIA