The 21st century cosmic rock scene has a new champion in indie rock band Arcade Fire.
The artwork for the band’s new album “We” includes an image of the monstrous black hole M87* and the title and lyrics of a song featuring our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*.
Band members Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, who are married, performed the songs “We” and “End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A*)” during a press conference held by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on 12 May 2022. for the launch of a new image of the black hole Captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), east of Sagittarius A*. [Watch the performance above.]
Sagittarius A* in pictures: The first photo of the Milky Way’s monstrous black hole explained in pictures
The first image of a black hole was presented by EHT Collaboration in 2019, and a variation is the artwork on the back cover of the Arcade Fire disc. The band has been together since the early 2000s, and “We” is their sixth studio album.
Space.com had a chance to sit down with Butler to chat about the band’s new record and their recent performance. (The interview has been lightly edited.)
space.com: Nice to talk to you, Win. Can you tell us what attracted you to black holes when writing the new record?
Butler: We have a song called “End of the Empire” and it’s nine and a half minutes. We had the first three parts and for some reason I read this article about Sagittarius A*. I have written [its name] on a card on my wall and walked by every day. I knew there was a fourth part of the song that was going to be called Sagittarius A*.
space.com: For me at least, the tone of the album sets the stage for a spiritual and introspective experience. How much of it was inspired to look out at the universe and question our place in it?
Butler: I feel like there are so many things we don’t know about ourselves. And for me, the first half of the record is like if this character wants to escape from himself and wants to escape from all the problems on the planet, and like looking at this black hole, and maybe if he could go through the black hole. , then that would be far enough from all of this. And when they actually get there, what they find is their own eye and everyone they’ve ever loved and all their memories and their family. It’s kind of like what we’re trying to run away from is just ourselves and everything is interconnected.
space.com: What do you think of the newly released image of the Milky Way? supermassive black hole? It must be surreal to see a real image so soon after the album’s release.
Butler: Yes, it was a big surprise. I mean, people have been texting me and asking if it was like an elaborate launch strategy or something, what would it be, I mean, I’d love to 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, working together for a common cause. I just think, in this day and age, it’s like we get so obsessed with the everyday problems that we face; it is really important to think about things much bigger than ourselves. And it doesn’t get much bigger than the black hole in the middle of our galaxy.
space.com: Can you tell us how a 1921 science fiction novel helped inspire “Us”?
Butler: Yes, my specialty is Russian literature. And I took a class on the 1920s, which is kind of the peak of the Russian Revolution, and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel. [“We”] It is the first dystopian book that [George Orwell’s] “1984” is directly based on. I think when the revolution was happening, it was a very exciting and tumultuous time, and the world was changing very fast. And Zamyatin was just raising his hand and saying, “Hey guys, I know we’re all really excited right now, but there may be a couple of issues that I just want to point out that maybe we should think about.” .” Just to have such a prophetic voice, you know, someone was writing 100 years ago that still has something to say to modernity, it’s inspiring.
space.com: Do you have any other sci-fi influences that you’re pulling from?
Butler: I love science fiction. William Gibson is a great hero to me, a fellow Canadian. I have always loved [Neal] Stephenson. I mean, like, too many to name. Orwell is probably like my all-time hero.
Space.com: How did the presentation at the ESO press conference go?
Butler: It literally came in yesterday. [May 11]. We set up some microphones in our house and we were home for a minute. And it’s just the piano in our living room and he just did this very small, intimate performance. But you know, it feels really exciting because the second song we played, “We,” is kind of an imagination of the other side of this sense of unconditional love and kind of hope and rebirth. And I think those ideas are in short supply these days, so it’s nice to have something to draw inspiration from.
space.com: Are there other aspects of the record that were directly connected to the space?
Butler: I mean, I think it’s more like when we recorded in El Paso, like in far west Texas, and it was during the November elections; it’s like the peak of COVID. And like, you know, crazy, crazy weather. We were right next to the border wall; the property that we were was like in the border wall with Mexico. But at night, we’d sit around the fire and this gigantic West Texas sky. And, you know, it’s like this moment at the peak of COVID, where we can all be together and really have dinner together and hang out outside and just be under the starsand kind of like having this feeling of being overwhelmed by how precious this planet that we have and this time that we have together is.
space.com: Have you had the opportunity to look at the stars through a telescope or do any watching the sky while you were there?
Butler: Yes, when we were there, there was a crazy ring around the moon: the full moon with this kind of crazy halo. I don’t even know what it’s called. It was like we all had pictures of it on our phones, just amazing.
space.com: That’s great. You can’t beat those kinds of experiences; always stays with you. That was a fantastic show today; it was really inspiring.
Butler: Thank you.
Find out more about Arcade Fire’s cosmic album “We” at the band’s website.