Miles Davis – “Mtume” from Get Up With It
I’d say, this music is about something, and what it is about is what we are becoming: post-human and, concomitantly, technology-obsessed. This is the poison whirring through the wiring of a supersociety which has become a cage, what Max Weber prophesied when he wrote before the First World War of a populace “embracing… mechanized petrification, embellishing a sort of conclusive self-importance. For of that stage of this cultural development it might truly be said, ‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; the nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.’”
By now you probably think I’ve stretched a subjective impression way too far. Okay then, look around you. Do those look like people? Hell, they ain’t even good enough to be animals. Androids is more like it, mutants at best. They have become the machines they worship, successfully post-human. Now go look in the mirror. Like what you see? Think you’re pretty cool, eh? Well, reflect on the fact that they think the same thing when they look in their mirrors. And you look just as grotesque as they do to you. Now go put on, say, Side Two of On the Corner. Feel more at home now?
Look, I don’t expect Miles Davis to stand up and say, “Yes, all my mid-Seventies music was intended to reflect a society in which narcissism is giving way to solipsism,” or even “You say I stopped playing with soul, but it’s you that’ve lost your souls.” And I may be wrong about all this, but I do think I hear him saying, musically in pieces like “Rated X” and “Mtume,” “You think this is oppressive? Well, this is what you look like to me.”
-Miles Davis: Music for the Living Dead by Lester Bangs, circa December 1981.