Wednesday 7 November 2012

Alan Turing’s Teen Tragedy and the Difference Between Electro and Rock-Opera


Alan Turing satisfies quite a few of the criteria for Jesus Christ. Tick them off: he saved the world (or hastened the end of WWII by cracking the Enigma code), he foresaw the coming of a second kingdom (the kingdom of computers; he came up with the prototype), probed the secrets of creation (morphogenesis), and was put to death (hounded for his homosexuality) and rose again: only now, a half century after his death, are scientists and biologists beginning to appreciate, partially and inadequately, the full range of his ideas. 

And now he has his own rock opera, or rather, a glittery synthpop tribute. Un digito binario dudoso comes from Hidrogenesse, an electronic pop duo based in Barcelona. It translates as A doubtful binary digit. The subtitle is recital para Alan Turing

And it’s entirely enchanting.

The style pioneered by Soft Cell and Pet Shop Boys has never sounded more delicious, tuneful or plain weird. The synthetic beats are groovy, the swooshes are silvery and not entirely from a human source (quite appropriately), and the fact that the sweet, heart-on-sleeve lyrics are mostly in Spanish adds another level of delightful dislocation. 

I can’t think of a better compliment than to say that Alan Turing would love this album, which mines his biography sensitively, yet with a frisson of camp. The first song, drawing on the Snow White imagery, conjures a kiss with which to wake Alan up. And ‘Christopher’ is not in the least exploitative but breathtakingly sweet, and, with one bound, Turing’s personal teen tragedy joins the pantheon of universal pop teen tragedies. 

Anyone who lives in Manchester, or works at Manchester University, whose field is Computer Science, who comes from Spain and what’s more contributed to the Alan Turing exhibition at Manchester Museum that’s going to close next week, is going to love ‘Love Letters’. Indeed, Eva Navarro was much amused and has been singing the chorus ever since. This bit is in English and it goes: 





The album closes with ‘Historia del Mundo Contada por las Computadoras (History of the World Told by Computers)’. Far from being impersonal and sterile, it’s a beautiful, melodic, quasi-pop excursion. Artificial intelligence, it seems, has crossed the line into romance and discovered heartbreak. Love and logic are no longer incompatible extremes. The machine has learned to cry. Divine! 

1 comment:

  1. The album is also on Spotify:


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