The Epic of Gilgamesh, written around 2100 BCE and one of the earliest examples of human literature, tells the tale of a thwarted search for immortality. In it, the raucous King Gilgamesh travels to the end of the world in order to solve the only problem he in his kingliness is powerless against—death. There, he meets a brewess named Siduri, who urges Gilgamesh to be happy with what he has, telling the desperate man:
“When the gods created mankind,
Death they dispensed to mankind,
Life they kept for themselves.”
Thousands of years later, in 23 BC, Horace pens ‘Odes’, whose 11th poem in the first book ends with the infamous phrase: “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero” or “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow.” At the same time, Epicureanism has its revival in Rome, whose inhabitants find wisdom and guidance in the Greek’s philosopher’s primal teneta fearless embrace of death and celebration of life’s simple pleasures.
Fast forward almost 2000 years and Oscar Wilde pens ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’. Add another hundred years and physicist Max Tegmark introduces the thought experiment of Quantum Immortality. Flash to 2005, when noted futurist Ray Kurzweil, the Director of Engineering at Google, gives a concrete date for singularity: 2045.
Now, just 24 years before Kurzweil’s predictions come to pass, neo-classical composer Viktor Orri Árnason throws his own hat into the ring with ‘Eilífur’—his debut album which continues the thousands of years of exploration of mankind’s inevitable future sans death.
What is our purpose?
“The idea really grabbed me that it is possible—that not too far in the future we will have such technical advances that we may be able to regenerate ourselves and choose to live as long as we want,” Viktor explains. “My thoughts then became: What does that mean for us as human beings? What is the purpose of life? How can we even enjoy it?”
In Viktor’s view, it was man’s own knowledge of their mortality that drove so much of their happiness. “Today, people imagine themselves living 60-90 years and this gives you a timeline to engage with life with the knowledge that you will die,” he says. “If that is gone suddenly, it’s going to be difficult to stay optimistic and easier to just be bored and depressed.”
To showcase this progression, Viktor’s nine-track album bases itself around three songs, entitled “Var”, “Er” and “Var-Er”.
“Var-Er”—the last song on the album and finale of Viktor’s adventure into the future—begins with a smooth horn progression peppered with spurts of twinkling trills. It’s a bit “Rites of Spring”—albeit more relaxed—until a droning men’s choir appears, pulling the listener into the depths of meditation. Slow and intense on the surface, the song is underscored at all times by a visceral sense of restlessness, of searching, or unease. Apparently living forever doesn’t sound particularly upbeat.
“The goal was to create a space where you would feel lost,” Viktor explains. “To create a sense that you could lose yourself in time.”
And to do this, Viktor actually did lose himself in time. When composing each track, Viktor used tape-based time manipulation to warp discordant sounds together.
“[This] was very important to me in the process of making this music,” he continues. “These are tools that allow me to mix together things that were originally recorded in different tempos or keys, to slow them down or speed them up to get them to play together. The whole album is a display of a distorted reality, of time being irrelevant.”
So Viktor Orri Árnason… would you do it?
But the question remains, were these medical advances available, would Viktor embrace them? Will he be uploading his brain in 2045?
“I would do it, but I’d want to stay optimistic,” he laughs. “Everyone I’ve talked to, though, are frightened by this. So yes, I would definitely do it, but it saddens me to know that many of my friends and family would not want to.”
As a whole though, Viktor’s album urges us to seize the day, regardless of our immortality status or not.
“My question was, in the end, what do we need to do to enjoy life? And it became about the simple things in life,” Viktor concludes. “We need to learn to appreciate the moment. Allow yourself to be a child and look up at the sky and enjoy how wonderful it is. Enjoy every breath you take.”
‘Eilífur’ by Viktor Orri Árnason will be released on June 18th, 2021. Check him out on his website.
Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.
You can also check out our shop, loaded with books, apparel and other cool merch, that you can buy and have delivered right to your door.
Also you can get regular news from Iceland—including the latest notifications on eruptions, as soon as they happen—by signing up to our newsletter.
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!