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Machine learning

Tulsa’s Nathan Wright is building a brave new world around his songs with dark videos, cryptic lyrics and a robotically efficient release schedule.

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Nathan Wright worries about technology.


The social media plague corrupting our brains. The cold, impersonal algorithms dictating our daily lives. Even the recent pushes into AI-generated art.


But as a musical artist in the modernized world, you either figure out how to embrace it or you get crushed beneath the wheels.


“There's a sort of catch-22 that is annoying to me, or at least interesting to me, which is that my songs revolve around a sort of paranoia about AI and the control of information and surveillance,” Wright said. “But on that front in its true form, I'm basically sitting here trying to think like the algorithm to try to figure out what it wants. I'm already sort of consensually in servitude to some inhuman thing that's deciding whether my music gets heard or seen or not.”


For Wright, this is an ongoing battle, but one that he intends to continue wading into for the foreseeable future.


From “Witch Dreams” video (animation by Lane Goza) - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Photo provided
  • From “Witch Dreams” video (animation by Lane Goza)

Every six weeks, he is dropping a new single in the form of an ongoing video series, carefully and cryptically constructing something that resembles a dystopian sci-fi narrative. The songs are each wildly different from one another, often featuring new collaborators or varied stylistic experiments, but the visual accompaniment is committed to a shadowy, high-contrast character, a stark neo-noir world of encroaching de-personalization.


“The songs that are coming up are musically completely different than the songs that existed before,” Wright said, “But the lyrical themes are all exactly the same, and I think I’m just going to maintain that and develop this sort of dystopian, fictional – but maybe not-so-fictional – world of characters and little narratives and stuff like that.”


True to the themes at play, the songs take their final shapes in the lead up to that six-week release mark, with Wright entrenching himself in the final writing and production, like a mechanical assembly line churning out a final product with the next waiting close behind.


That kind of creative work ethic is nothing new for Wright. He’s spent years as a music teacher, orchestral writer, and co-leader of eclectic Tulsa-based Count Tutu alongside R&B/soul star Branjae, with whom he even explored some of these same tech-dystopia themes on 2021’s “Free Facts.”


“I kind of took this as an opportunity to write the music that I usually don’t get to write, because it’s not ‘stagey’ or upbeat or realistic, and it’s not happy,” Wright said. “This is really all of my Bjork, Elliott Smith, Portishead, 2000s-era Radiohead influence all coming out now.”


“Naturally Forgotten Theater” is all deconstructed Trip-Hop. “No Wise Man” is some kind of dark, digitized chamber pop. “Witch Dreams” opens up the tonal palette with off-kilter acoustic plucking and swelling, symphonic strings, pulling the project out of those paranoid, noir alleyways and creating something increasingly epic and romantic. Fitting, as the single’s video also showcases the project’s introduction of sweeping, cinematic animation for the first time, aided by animator and graphic designer Lane Goza.


The next installment, “Seed Phrases,” drops Dec. 15.


Creating such a filmic spectacle around the single releases is all part of the slowly unfolding experience.


From “Witch Dreams” video (animation by Lane Goza) - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Photo provided
  • From “Witch Dreams” video (animation by Lane Goza)

“Every six weeks, I release my video to a live audience of locals in the form of a film festival,” Wright said. “I feature other local artists that have released material in that six-week period. It's just there for all the artists and their fans to mix and hang out with each other. The vibe was really cool at this last one. It's invite-only through my email list at yeoldetulsa.net and it's called Ye Olde Tulsa Film Feature.”


So is this all just a way to create a sustained, long-term interest in the songs? Is this ‘every six weeks’ single-and-video release just a sly subversion of the usual EP drops and ad nauseam single promotions that define the modern music world of the internet?


“That wasn’t the intention, but that’s kind of what it ended up being,” he said. “I just didn't want to do an album because I didn't want to be restrained by making an album flow and do it all in the same vein. I really wanted it to be episodic, and for each episode to just add to the context of what's going on.”


As with any episodic, evolving story, the question now is the same as the question of our technological advancement and our society itself:


Where is it all heading?


“I don’t really know,” Wright said carefully. “Every time I get an ending in mind, it ends up not being the end. So no, I don't have a particular endpoint. I'm kind of curious to see where it ends up.”


All of Nathan Wright’s current singles and videos are available now on YouTube.

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