In 2009, I began composing a follow-up to Initials B.R. called Nine Lives. What started as an exercise in math-rap became over time a much grander vision: an exploration of agency, meaning, mortality, and legacy inspired by the Voyager mission, its Golden Record, number stations, Holst’s The Planets, and the Maraṇasati of the Satipatthana Sutta's "Nine Cemetery Contemplations".
Each song bears a time signature or cycle derived from its track number. Each song represents a planet in the solar system along with its mythological namesake. (Yes, including Pluto.) Each song is a meditation on life and death from the perspective of a particular developmental stage. And thereby the album as a whole functions as a life in itself—a movement from phase to phase through our moment in the universe, drifting on momentum like a probe sent to study what makes a life well-lived and what does or doesn’t lie beyond.
Over the course of the nine years I’ve worked on this album, I’ve changed significantly. I got married. I learned a job. I earned my master's. I made a career. I discovered things about myself I never would have anticipated, but which make perfect sense in hindsight. Meanwhile, the world around me changed too, often in unpleasant ways. Family and friends became sick. Some died. Relationships fell apart. We witnessed again and again the tragedies of racism and sexism in America. World politics entertained and elevated the despicable. And permeating it all was the gnawing nihilism of sitting powerlessly at the precipice of environmental catastrophe.
It is a privilege to make music in these circumstances; I accepted it as a responsibility to make something significant. I took for my muses the polar sentiments of the Voyager missions: a triumphant celebration of the highest achievements of mankind, and a dashing reminder of the insignificance of our concerns on this miniscule blue speck orbiting aimlessly somewhere indistinct in an infinite cosmos.
In our lives, we strive to go beyond ourselves, to leave something that outlasts us, knowing full well that we are fragile, limited beings that will most likely leave no trace in just a few generations’ time. We call this “making the most.” And indeed "making the most" was very much the goal here. But "the most" is an abstraction, an ideal. Real human action is specific and definite. “The most" is but one of infinite possibilities whose impact we will never know. If the Voyager Record is a monument to human achievement conceived and composed by visionary authors of its greatness, it is also just a flawed mixtape culled from the crates of a misfit DJ collective.
So too with Nine Lives. Here are nine songs trying and certainly failing to capture things that are immense and timeless—the anxiety of anticipation, the endurance of love, the folly of vanity, the violence of invention, the burden of responsibility, the danger of desire, the steel of persistence, the legacy of heritage, the pursuit of transcendence—in moments that are small and tenuous.
I nevertheless launch this album at last—a small death in itself—because, for all our uncertain flailings, our arcs are ushered on by imperfect and incomplete gestures. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "We are all very near despair. The sheathing that floats us over its waves is compounded of hope, faith in the unexplainable worth and sure issue of effort, and the deep, subconscious content which comes from the exercise of our powers." This work has sustained me. I hope there are those among you whom it sustains too.
So look up, fellow voyagers. The end of life is life. Go Atlas. Go Centaur. Go New Horizons. We are here to make meaning, and to make something meaningful together. Do what you have to. The task is the proof: You make what you mean when you move.