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Cognitive Dissonance

by Ross Richardson

Cognitive dissonance is the psychological stress an individual experiences when they participate in actions that go against their values, beliefs, or ideas. We all experience this to some extent. As new information contradicts existing beliefs stress is produced. In Archive of the Unbounded, cognitive dissonance might be the first truly ‘human’ experience Yevhen has.

In “06 Command Executed: Allocating Resources for Planetary Liberation by Any Means Necessary,” Yevhen finds himself actively defying his programming. As Gabriel pointed out in our previous post on “05 The Multiple Registers and Sensoria of a Wayward Imprint,” the subtle change from “my code” to “your code” in that song's crescendo sets the stage for the internal turmoil Yevhen struggles with in track 06.

The opening of this song introduces a new character, Mara—Yevhen’s onboard computer, who is quickly revealed to be far more than just an operating system, and who acts as Yevhen’s conscience. Mara continues to abide by the standard protocols defined in their programming, placing her at odds with Yevhen’s burgeoning desire to break free of his programming and define his own destiny. To move beyond their programming, the pair of them must push some boundaries—they must become unbounded.

Boundaries Are for the Uncomposed

In a similar way, composing this song forced us to push many of our own boundaries. We were largely finished with what I would call the ‘meat’ of the album, but we needed something to connect the dots from Yevhen’s awakening in track 05 to his manifesto in track 07. As we have mentioned previously, we envisioned ‘connective tissue’ songs to tackle such transitions. In our original concepting, we intended track 06 to smooth the cinematic crescendo of the preceding track into the raw aggression of “07 Altering the Kismet Program.” We meant this track to be a connective, transitional piece that wouldn’t take up any more space than necessary.

At the time, I had been working on composing drum grooves more rooted in electronic music, as well as doing some light studying on intentionally dissonant tones and changing time signatures mid-song. As most artists do when they find a new tool, I crammed all of these themes into the first piece of music I could.

My original composition essentially consisted of a drum groove, a loose chord structure, and a bass line interrupted by periods of intense dissonance. The idea was to have a beat that draws the listener in, and to then use the dissonance to punctuate transitional points of the song. Alan had the second pass at the song and added in an incredible layer of guitars, atmospherics, and synths, so by the time it got to Gabriel, it was primed for a plot piece well beyond the originally-conceived connective tissue. Once more our scope crept larger—just as our project grew from its meager roots into a multi-album epic, so too did this song expand from simply being a connective piece to become an essential narrative turning point for Yevhen and Mara.

Over the following weeks, we workshopped the track constantly, building out a song to not only narrate, but also score Yevhen’s mental breakdown. From extending the intro in order to build the atmosphere to sneaking a key change in at the end, emulating a turning point when mind(s) and purpose are aligned, we wanted the musical structure to emulate and enhance the narrative journey that the track follows. Throughout, we listen to Yevhen’s soliloquy, witnessing his cognitive dissonance that also ferries his awakening. His reverie-like introspection is violently interrupted by dissonant, intrusive thoughts reminiscent of the beginnings of a full emotional collapse—which sow the seeds for the first inklings of his kismet.

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