“We hate James Ferraro. James Ferraro is a hack; he’s selling fake cassettes online, his music is vacuous, unfocused, confusing, annoying. He’s pretentious, he’s trying too hard, he takes himself too seriously, his music isn’t about anything.” – Angry Internet Users (2016)
James Ferraro is making music that sounds like now.
Ferraro is The Laughing Man, changing our world perception in real-time, and Human Story 3 is the shared cybernetic space that we log in and out of every day, every hour, and every few minutes. The Laughing Man’s infamy comes from his re-appropriation of the Starchild Coffee (Starbucks) logo; simultaneously sparking imitators and debasers, a backdrop of corporate corruption delineating our gross attachment to the logo, the safety and the comfort of the brand. Ferraro is equally comfortable playing the iconoclast, and is clearly somebody who feels where we are but doesn’t know where we’re going; equal parts anxious and eager to experience the complexity of futuristic consciousness, however speculative and overwhelming it may be. As of now, our dependence on technology has led us to share new common phenomena – we feel a buzz around our thigh, reach for our phone – nothing. Our shell, the skin, is a sensing, guessing, logic-seeking organ of perception, a blanket with a brain in every micro-inch. We long to connect. The ghost, our individualism, becomes more fluid by the day. In Human Story 3, Ferraro plots our emotional development, our ghosts in our shells, against what he dubs “a plethora of unnatural places and commercial simulacra.” These verbose assertions are probably why Ferraro is such a divisive figure online, he has devout followers who ache to learn more about him and his aesthetic, but his detractors are more interesting – mostly he pisses them off because they think he’s ripping them off, but he’s only selling 200 physical copies of Human Story 3 and it’s unlikely that he cares if you download it illegally or buy it. He skirts a narrow seam, just buoyant enough to selvedge his well-crafted persona.
Press play. The album opens with “Ten Songs for Humanity,” finding poignancy in the harshest and most stale arenas in our world. The whole human existence is summarised here, picture yourself, anyone, all of us at once growing, stumbling, succeeding and disintegrating – a sweet, unspoiled A.I. chorus preparing to replace you – plucking knowingly away over the top of our demise. Is the human story past and present combining, colliding head on, with strings that hover below this oddly triumphant, ever-rising motto of tone and tension?
Between its opener and eventual bookend, the album is less climatic sonically, but homes in on its concept. Would-be ephemera are continually given purpose. Subtlety isn’t necessary when you hold up a mirror to the disingenuous, cluttered, restless marketplace we exist between. Ferraro creates a disjointed and often bewildering soundscape, he muses about Yoga, Civilisation, Markets, most importantly – how the individual fits in to all of it. The disconnect between our individualism and the way we craft our own self-images is glaring – our globally connected world allows a window into any style, any movement, and can be lifted instantly. Our idea of unique, how we differentiate between each person denigrates to what degree we engage with the market – transactional history interacts with our personality on a greater level than ever before. Ferraro interjects his compositions with advertisements that mirror the television-watching experience and the jarring derailment of daily life by the consumerist age. Life on shuffle, we digest – seated on a conveyor belt in some hyperactive shopping centre, bass-heavy orchestral tones elevate the arrangements from playful tinkering to a blatant vanguard, where symphonic harmony personifies our struggle to emerge above prosaic existence.
Every small distraction that we place in our own lives, multiplied by the distractions that external forces place on our shoulders, come to a heady and dizzying crossroads throughout. Often Ferraro focuses on the moments where we toil and struggle – and it may seem obvious, but we rise and fall – we succeed and then we fuck up. The Human Story isn’t really epic, but life rarely comes in extremes. We sit, we walk, watch or read, never straining ourselves more than necessary – we add virtual clutter to an existence that revolves around comfort. That clutter seems crucial now, even if it sounds unplanned – like a MIDI ensemble conducted by a head full of wires, or a program that translates our data into sound, or even something completely random, but maybe we can find something in nearly anything.
The intersection we find ourselves at – between natural and digital, gives us a plethora of options when we log on. We can choose who we are, how long we stay, how shallow our activities are, whether we interact or we observe. I log on to hear this album, somebody writes that it’s “pure shit, end of story” – maybe this is the intellectual and technological marriage that Ferraro writes about. Maybe it’s a hallmark of alienation shattering our permanence, the harsh midpoint between global and personal relationships. It may seem to suggest technophobia, but Human Story 3 is really a contemplation, not to say Ferraro is spit-balling, it is considered – but what he’s asking is how adroit basement dwellers feel disengaged from the globalised existence. Despite all of its wonders (which are more than plentiful) there is still a lack of contact, of touch. The lack of humanity doesn’t come from technology itself; the internet’s least travelled paths are still what we would describe as free, it’s owing to the way it functions in our societies – largely analogous, incongruous and impersonal.
Human Story 3 is a study, a circumstantial and distinct time-capsule for the hyper-realist age, a portrait of all of us – hesitating and bourgeoning but completely up to date, to the second, racing towards whatever is ahead.
Photos: Joyce Kim