Fifth Nature

Monty Adkins (Composer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


Fifth Nature has a number of influences that feed the narrative that threads through the album. Over the past few years I've been increasingly interested in places like Onkalu, a deep geological repository for spent nuclear fuel in Eurajoki in Finland (there's a wonderful film about this site called Into Eternity by Michael Madsen) and a similar, but stalled project initiated by the USA in the Yucca Mountains in the 1980s. One of the issues people realised about these sites was that the materials contained within them needed to be stored for 100,000 years, over 4,000 generations. To warn future generations about the dangers associated with such sites a group of engineers, anthropologists, nuclear physicists, behavioural scientists and other specialists were invited by the US government to form the human Interference Task Force. Thomas Sebeok, a linguist, was one of those invited. He developed the idea of an atomic priesthood – a group which would preserve and perpetuate an authorised message and cannon of knowledge about such sites, creating rituals and myths to protect society and keep them away from storage locations. In effect, the atomic priesthood would create a new societal structure to keep people away from contaminated sites around the Earth. In parallel, another idea about how to keep people safe in the future came from Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem who proposed information plants which would only grow at the site of storage facilities and contain within them mathematical coding within their DNA of the dangers to be decoded by later generations.

The second influence comes from Edward Wilson’s book The Future of Life (2002) in which he states that one-half of Earth’s higher life-forms will be extinct by 2100 if we continue on our current path in terms of exploiting and wasting the Earth's resources. This sixth extinction event, which we are now living through, is sometimes called the Holocene or Anthropocene extinction. We are seeing a faster rate of species become extinct than ever before. On Fifth Nature I imagine the seventh extinction event – one directly affecting humans and caused by humans.
The third and final part of the conceptual jigsaw comes from landscape theorist John Dixon Hunt. Hunt elucidates three categories of nature – first nature being wilderness, second nature being cultivated landscapes, third nature being the garden in which there is a combination of nature and culture or organised control. Prof. Lola Sheppard proposes that in the twentieth century there was a fourth nature which now includes everything from nature, industrialised farming down to genetic intervention at the nano-scale creating, "mutant environments which fuse natural and artificial" in which nature is monitored and controlled still further. My concept of fifth nature takes this one step further and draws influence from biopunk and the idea that humans will deliberately enhance themselves and their environment not through cyberware but more fundamentally through synthetic biology and genetic engineering.

In the album I wanted to think about how, despite Sebeok's and Lem's best intentions what might happen if things didn't go quite as they had thought and planned. I imagine a future Earth where the messages in Lem's information plants had become corrupted and subsequent generations of Lemmites had altered nature, the environment and themselves through constant synthetic biological and genetic engineering to the extent that it was now irreversible. In the album Cerria is the high-priestess of the Lemmites.
I also thought about how the atomic priesthood with its emphasis on 'clean' or 'pure' areas of the Earth as opposed to polluted radioactive ones could come to misunderstand the original message Sebeok created it to perpetuate. As a result, over millennia, the Atom (rather than Atomic) Priesthood ends up worshipping the pure 'atom' of nature with Atom-Yn as their high-priest. Atom-Yn sings "Sol vertetur in tenebras et luna in sanguinem" (The sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood) foretelling the end of days on Earth.
The album depicts how these two opposing groups must resolve their differences and work together to survive. Leaving Earth to seek a new home.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCryo Chamber
Media of outputCD
Size58 minutes
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2021


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