Inner Peace Records and The Urban Music Foundation have collaborated with The University of Oxford’s ‘Science Together‘ programme (exploring what challenges can be overcome or opportunities seized by local community groups when they are given access to the world class skills, knowledge and resources of researchers) and In-Spire Sounds to present “EPOCH: Human Innovation and Response”. This project has been described as a ‘Conceptual Hip Hop Time Machine’.
“From the spark of the first human-made fire, to the advent of the internal combustion engine and beyond, humanity’s unique ability for shared learning has given us powers which
would have caused our ancestors to perceive us as gods. Our technologies and the ways in which we choose to use them define our cultures and carry our ideas and feelings into
the generations that follow us.”
Oxford based artist Rawz has developed a collaboration with researchers working at the cutting edge of fields such as Artificial Intelligence, Immunology, and Modern Language, exploring the interplay between science, technology and creativity.
Simultaneously a University research project, an art exhibition, and a conceptual Hip Hop album, the project team have created a series of “Epochs” – isolated spaces designed to reflect the overall feel of 5 specifically defined eras spanning from the 1950s and into the future. A group of artists from Inner Peace Records known as Episode One, created a bespoke soundtrack for each of the Epochs using technology from the specific eras to create hip hop music, communicating their interpretations of these historic periods through their artistic response. Each Epoch is populated with technology and stories that defined the zeitgeist of the era with the aim of immersing audience members in the spirit of that age, hoping to provoke an emotional response similar to the feeling of being physically transported there through time and space.
The process of creating the music for the project has seen Episode One using world-first recording techniques in a fully functional 1950s studio, collaborating with a member of the band Parliament Funkadelic, and working with an A.I. Specialist to imagine how the music of the future might be made. The project has been documented in a short film, set for release in March 2023.
A physical exhibition was spread across 5 rooms or Epochs, each themed around a specific time period and set to new music composed using the technology and methods of the corresponding age.
EPOCH 1: THE 1950s
Captured on reel-to-reel tape at Sugar Ray’s Vintage Recording Studio in Essex (one of the world’s only fully functional 1950s recording studios) and filmed for a special on YouTube’s popular 50s revival channel Bopflix, Episode One used world-first recording techniques to immortalise their interpretation of this pivotal decade in global history. Featuring the first known raps recorded through a 1955 RCA 44-BX Microphone (made famous by Elvis) and synthetic sub-bass picked up by a microphone manufactured in 1938, the album begins with a truly unique fusion of historic and modern musical sensibilities.
EPOCH 2: THE 1960s & 70s
Freedom In Technicolor
This Hip Hop homage to bands such as The Doors, The Beatles and The Animals, and the Free Love and Civil Rights movements of the 1960s was made using Episode One’s interpretation of 60s recording and mixing techniques. It celebrates the power of music, and of the protests of the era which led to shifts in government policy and societal attitudes which are still felt today.
Under the Foot of the Man ft. Garrett Shider
This funk filled bounce through the 1970s was the result of a chance collaboration with Garrett Shider; George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic guitarist & vocalist, and son of Garry Shider aka Starchild, who was one of the founding members of the genre defining group. Political scandal, strikes and the advent of Disco are all touched upon in the lyrics alongside some classic 70s slang.
EPOCH 3: THE 1980s & 90s
Music From Computers Part 1
80s synth keyboards bring a “Stranger Thingsesque” sci-fi epicness to this recognition of corporate greed and materialism. The emergence of crack cocaine, the New Romantic movement and Yuppie culture all feature in the lyrics. The dawn of a new age of computer generated music is heralded with a disconnection from the spiritual and an infatuation with material objects and having it all.
Music From Computers Part 2
This track is a loving tribute to the artists and songs that gave the creators of this project their passion for creativity. Made using an Akai MPC, a piece of technology that arguably birthed modern hip hop, the beat was made by sampling creations from previous Epochs. A track laced with references to dial up internet, the AIDS pandemic, The Spice Girls, and the rise of inner city violence. “We are the future, a new wave, new ways”
EPOCH 4: 2000-2023
Start From One
Back in their own time, Episode One enjoy the freedom of modern music making using 21st century software and hardware to acknowledge now and the importance of being present in the moment, while recognising the power of knowledge and the work done by those that historically paved the way. “You can’t begin unless you start from one”.
As we conclude the first quarter of the 21st century, this track muses on the phenomenon of commercial space flight, and the contemporary desire to ignore global issues in favour of short term gratification through social media and other surface level distractions. In the end, “You’ve just got to pay”.
EPOCH 5: THE FUTURE
In the Hands of Painters
Can one be nostalgic for the future? Composed at Oxford University’s e-Research Centre, this track utilises some of the most advanced tools available to the modern musician. Based around a sample taken from a computer generated synthetic loop, the song’s hook was written and sung by a combination of two different artificial intelligences trained using over 25,000 words of Rawz lyrics. Pondering possible futures and what they may or may not contain for the human race and it’s artists, the track’s lyrics ask what will remain when we become history, concluding that only thing certain about the future, is that it will be a product of the past, and the present.
The artwork for the album’s cover image was generated through a text prompt composed by Rawz using an artificial intelligence software programme called Midjourney. After hours of trial and error, and the creation of over 100 images Rawz selected this one and developed it into the cover for the album.
WHY HIP HOP?
Sprouting from the poverty and neglect of late 70s New York ghettos, with roots that can be traced back through the beat writers of the 50s and 60s, to the West African tradition of Griot, Hip Hop has bloomed into arguably the most influential cultural phenomenon of the 21st century, touching every nation on Earth. Hip Hop’s founders adapted and innovated with the tools they had available to them to invent a completely new genre of music and give their community an amplified voice that is now heard all over the world.
Based on the 5 original elements of Dance, Graffti, DJing, MCing and Knowledge, Hip Hop artists have always utilised newly available technologies to reinterpret artefacts from their past. DJs would play vinyl records borrowed from their parents on cutting edge Technics SL-1200 turntables with newly developed and powerful direct drive motors. They would use two decks, connected by modified equalisers to loop their favourite sections of these records over and over again, as MCs expressed their lyrical finesse using microphones designed for making announcements at community functions.
The techniques that these pioneering DJs used grew into the tradition of sampling; converting short sections of sound recorded from vinyl records into digital information using sampling machines specifically developed for this purpose in the late 80s. Producers alter the sound and tempo of these samples in creative ways and combine them with others to build up new rhythms and textures. This has become a central component in the creation of Hip Hop music, which in turn has driven advances with music making technologies and software. Through the practice of always looking for innovative and unusual things to sample, Hip Hop has been influenced by, and influenced, almost every other style of music, even spawning new genres that wouldn’t have been possible without tools designed for Hip Hop production.
This project looks at all these traditions and histories from a fresh point of view, examining the technological advances in music creation which led to and were driven by the advent of Hip Hop, and combining key pieces of technology from the various eras to make something entirely new. Hip Hop culture itself is a legacy of the technical innovations which preceded it, and has driven advances in music tech ever since. By combining technology developed over nearly a century for a shared purpose, researchers and musicians can tell the story of how science and technology enrich our lives and culture in the true innovative spirit of Hip Hop!
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Check out the highlights reel here.
Words by Rawz and Theo Specone