Climate change and the acceleration of artificial intelligence seem ubiquitous among public discourse today, particularly in the West. The paradoxical nature of this is curious, yet comes as no surprise. Humanity’s inaction in the face of climate change warns of impending organic catastrophe while its active advancement towards sentient artificial intelligence often comes with stern warnings of a synthetic disaster. As such, these conversations often happen on asymptotic planes as if one has no bearing on the other. They paint the picture of a fuse simultaneously lit on opposite ends with humanity positioned, as always, in the center.
For Les lichens ne mentent jamais / Lichens Never Lie, Rindon Johnson presents “We can leave anytime, day or night (let us begin we have much further to go)”. In it, he intertwines components of artificial intelligence and lichens to confront climate change, addressing them not as opposites to be engaged with on separate horizons but as potential tools to inform one another.
The piece blends organic, mechanical, and ambiental sonic elements to construct a chilling soundscape of poetic ruminations on lichens and their role in the life of beings and the planet. Lichens, as a composite organism, could be said to learn like artificial intelligence programs; by collecting and combining data points to create an aggregate worldview, one capable both of impacting its surroundings and reporting on them. In reflecting on their potentiality, Johnson wove together poetic fragments and used an AI program called Descript, which he had trained over the years to mimic his voice. Then, he, along with Descript’s voice and the voice of his sibling, recorded and layered several utterances of that poem, set against and interspersed with sonic breaks.
The piece’s poetics juxtapose nature’s steady advancement against quotidian societal horrors. It compares how nature and humanity transmit critical information and what both entities then do with that information. Though the message may not seem positive, it isn’t bleak either. Instead, it calls for a decentralization of humanity in the discourse on planetary survival. An understanding that we are in this together, a pluriverse of beings. “There was a moment upon realizing that we were still entangled.” One of the three voices says. “We had to find a way to start again.”