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House in Space

Making Earth Dance with The N.A.S.A. Broadcast


Most of KCSB’s programs are broadcast from this planet, since KCSB is, after all, what’s come to be called a “terrestrial” radio station. Yet some deejays refuse to be tethered to good old terra firma. Captain Z and Nicolebot, cohosts of Saturday night’s The N.A.S.A. Broadcast, eschew KCSB’s Earth-bound control room in favor of a capsule astronomically high above it.

We’re floating on the right side of the Earth’s atmosphere,” says Captain Z, between the show’s blocks of music, “which means you Earthlings are on the wrong side. Sorry about that.”

It makes sense that the pair would do this, since, unlike most of the station’s staff, both happen to be advanced cyborgs. You can read their origin story in the spring 2010 issue of the Livewire, KCSB’s newly revived ‘zine (whose own origin story appeared in this column). It seems that, after a freak accident at the microchip plant, mild-mannered Kevin Olsson and Nicole Goulding were transformed from regular human beings into imposing-sounding “bipedal superprocesssors.” Justifiably bored with Earth life thanks to their greatly expanded brainpower, they launched themselves into space in search of more advanced entertainment to beam back to the home planet.

Piloting their shiny new neon-powered spacecraft under robotically revised personas, the two ultimately discovered a force promising to re-energize even the most unstimulating Earthling existence: electro house music. Joining Captain Z and Nicolebot in high Earth orbit, I sought to learn just what this stuff is and why it holds such power.

Despite their cognitive sophistication, neither of them could quite come up with a definition of electro house, forcing me to turn to the all too human institution of Wikipedia, which explained:

Electro house is a fusion genre of several electronic dance music subgenres that came into prominence in the 2000 decade. Stylistically, it combines the minimal-processed four to the floor beats commonly found in house music with harmonically rich analogue or digital basslines derived from electrotech, [and] abrasive high-pitched leads commonly found in progressive psytrance.

If you’re not already well-versed in electronic dance music, that might only make partial sense. To bring it down to simple terms — “this odd and inefficient Earth language,” as these androidified deejays have called it — electro house tracks combine the most heavy, primal rhythmic qualities of dance music with the many shifting layers of the sometimes digital and icy, sometimes analog and bleepy, waves of electronic composition. It’s just like the process by which the cohosts, now half human, half machine, underwent their own cybernetic transformation.

The N.A.S.A. Broadcast — which, naturally, stands for The Neon Astronaut Sound Androids’ Broadcast — has been dedicated to disseminating electro house to us non-augmented humans since the winter of 2008. During this time, its pilots have gone deeper and deeper into the genre, finding ever more obscure selections and sending them straight to Earth. Captain Z has assured me that it’s possible to subdivide electro house so finely that one’s favorite genre comprises but one track. (Or but one mix of one track.)

Though they were both converted into music-loving robotic superhuman form at the same time and in the same manner, their preferences within electro house differ slightly, enriching the sonic mixture in the signal that ultimately reaches Earth. To Captain Z’s mechanized mind, for instance, the fewer human voices intrude on the instrumentals, the better. Perhaps rebelling against her technologically immaculate side, Nicolebot makes occasional forays into the lo-fi, even eight-bit, end of the electro spectrum. Both ignore Earth-to-space communications sent by frat boys who plead to hear more Aphex Twin.

Given that they had to voyage out into the vast black expanse to comprehend the planet-saving potential of electro house, it’s perhaps ironic that the music itself tends to be produced right here on Earth. Los Angeles seems to be the United States’ electro house epicenter, but the parts of Captain Z and Nicolebot’s playlists that don’t come from there mostly originate in Europe, specifically France, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. Their sensors are especially lit up by acts like Digitalism, Daft Punk, and Valerie Discotexas. Some, from artists like Capsule and Shinichi Osawa, even comes from Japan.

Despite the fact that they have transcended all human imperfection, the N.A.S.A. broadcasters understand well the Homo sapiens’s enduring, illogical need to dance. Captain Z has determined, presumably in a rigorously precise scientific fashion, that the best time to dance is Saturday at 8 p.m., and that is thus when they begin beaming the electro house each week. Nor do they hesitate to satiate humanity’s love of narrative: interwoven with the music, many episodes include a story of one of the duo’s many continuity-free space-based adventures.

Or perhaps “misadventures” would be a more suitable term, since most of them seem to revolve around something going badly wrong. These troubles, usually technological in nature, echo the same incident that made Captain Z and Nicolebot Captain Z and Nicolebot in the first place. Equipment defects seem to have dogged them ever since, sometimes with epic and nonsensical consequences, sometimes causing nothing worse than a glitch. (Nicolebot astutely observed that, given the weird effects already present in so much of the music they play, it can be difficult to determine if something has gone wrong with the audio.)

Indeed, occasional on-air references to “language errors” or “un-debugged operating systems” aren’t unheard of — sometimes they’re the universally understood noises of grievous malfunction. But it’s all in good fun, since on The N.A.S.A. Broadcast, a week without tech trouble and its ensuing hilarity would be like a week without electro house itself. Though a town of Santa Barbara’s size would be hard pressed to support a full-fledged scene devoted to such a specific flavor of electronic music, a station like KCSB can certainly accommodate two futuristic, microchip-laden deejays and their mission to change that.

4-1-1: The N.A.S.A. Broadcast airs Saturdays from 8 to 9:30 p.m. KCSB, 91.9 FM. For more information, visit kcsb.org.

Please direct any feedback to colin@independent.com.

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