Science

Monstrous black holes fuel Arcade Fire’s cosmic album and performance (video)

The space rock scene of the 21st century has a new champion – indie rock band Arcade Fire.

The cover of the band’s new album “We” includes an image of the giant black hole M87*, as well as the title of the song and lyrics that refer to our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*.

Married band members Vin Butler and Regine Chassan performed the songs “We” and “End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A*)” during a press conference held by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on May 12, 2022. for publishing a new image of a black hole taken by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is an image of Sagittarius A*. [Watch the performance above.]

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A promo image for the band Arcade Fire. (Image credit: Arcade Fire)

The first ever image of a black hole was unveiled by the EHT collaboration in 2019, and a variant of this is the back cover of Arcade Fire. The band has been around since the early 2000s, and “We” is their sixth studio album.

Space.com had the opportunity to speak with Butler about the band’s new album and recent performance. (The interview has been slightly edited.)

Space.com: Nice to talk to you, Win. Can you tell us what drew you to black holes when you were recording the new album?

Butler: We have a song called Empire’s End and it’s nine and a half minutes long. We had the first three parts, and for some reason I read this article about Sagittarius A*. I wrote [its name] on a index card on my wall and walked past it every day. I knew there would be a fourth part of the song called Sagittarius A*.

Cover of the Arcade Fire “We” record. (Image credit: Arcade Fire)

Space.com: For me, at least, the tone of the record sets the stage for a spiritual and introspective experience. How inspired was it by looking at the universe and asking our place in it?

Butler: I think there’s so much we don’t know about ourselves. And for me, the first half of the record is that this character wants to escape from himself and from all the problems of the planet – and it’s kind of like looking into this black hole, and maybe if I could just go through the black hole, then that would be enough away from all this. And when they do get there, they find their own eye and everyone they’ve ever loved and all their memories and their family. It’s like what we’re trying to escape from, it’s just ourselves, and it’s all kind of interconnected.

An image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, a giant dubbed Sagittarius A*, was taken by the Event Horizon telescope on May 12, 2022. (Image courtesy of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration)

Space.com: How do you feel about the newly released image of the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole? It must be surreal to actually see it so soon after the record came out.

Butler: Yes, it was a big surprise. I mean, people wrote to me and asked me if it was like an elaborate release strategy or something – which would be, I mean, I wish I could be that smart. But no, it’s also just a sense of collaboration, having all these telescopes all over the planet, and teams from all these different countries, and a sense of humanity, sort of working together on a common cause. I just think that nowadays we are so obsessed with the day to day problems we face; it is very important to think about things much bigger than ourselves. And it’s not much larger than the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

Space.com: Can you tell us how a 1921 science fiction novel helped inspire Us?

Butler: Yes, my minor is Russian literature. And I took a course on the 20s, something like the peak of the Russian revolution, and on the novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin. [“We”] first dystopian book, [George Orwell’s] “1984” is directly based on. I think that when the revolution was taking place, it was a very exciting, turbulent time, and the world was changing very quickly. And Zamyatin sort of raised his hand and said, “Hey guys, I know we’re all really excited right now, but there might be a couple of things that I just want to point out that we might need to think about. Just to have such a prophetic voice – you know, someone who wrote 100 years ago that still has something to say to modern times – is inspiring.

Space.com: Do you have any other science fiction influences that you draw from?

Butler: I love science fiction. William Gibson is my big hero, fellow Canadian. I have always loved [Neal] Stephenson. I mean, too many to name. Orwell is probably my hero for all time.

Space.com: How was your presentation at the ESO press conference?

Butler: He came just yesterday. [May 11]. We set up a few microphones at our house and were at home for a minute. And it’s just the piano in our living room and just played this very small, intimate performance. But you know, it seems very exciting because the second song we played, “We”, is kind of imagining the other side of this feeling of unconditional love, hope and rebirth. And so I think there’s a bit of a lack of those ideas these days, so it’s nice to have something to inspire.

Space.com: Are there any other aspects of the record that are directly related to space?

Butler: I mean, I think it’s more like when we recorded in El Paso, far away in West Texas, and that was during the November election; it’s like the peak of COVID. And also, you know, crazy, crazy times. We were next to the border wall; the property we were was like a mexican border wall. But at night, we kind of sat around the fire and this giant West Texas sky. And, you know, it’s like this moment in the peak of COVID where we can kind of be together and actually love to have dinner together and walk outside and just be under the stars and just have this feeling of being overwhelmed by how precious this planet is. that we have, and this time we are together.

The cover of the Arcade Fire “We” LP featuring Event Horizon’s image of the black hole M87*. (Image courtesy of the Arcade Fire/EHT collaboration)

Space.com: Did you get a chance to look at the stars through a telescope or watch the sky while you were there?

Butler: Yes, when we were there, there was a crazy ring around the moon – a full moon with a kind of crazy halo. I don’t even know what it’s called. It was like we all have pictures of it on our phones – just amazing.

Space.com: It’s amazing. You cannot conquer such experiences; it always stays with you. Today was a fantastic show; it was really inspiring.

Butler: Thank you.

Find out more about Arcade Fire’s space album “We” on the band’s website.

Follow Steve Spalet on Twitter and Instagram. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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