CYBOTRON: Maintain The Golden Ratio

CYBOTRON Maintain The Golden Ratio EP


28 Years Later

Cybotron: Maintain the Golden Ratio – Twenty eight years have passed since Cybotron last released any music. A two track EP has appeared. The first track ‘Maintain’ has been available to stream for a few weeks.

The first thing that happens when listening to Maintain is to experience the usual split in the space time continuum. This of course set me off on my usual train of thought. Something about this particular sound, as I’ve always believed, exists across all points in time simultaneously. Maintain, does exactly what I anticipated. It sounds exactly like I expected. In that I expected it to sound better than I expected – which of course it does. And yet it does not sound like a nostalgic look back to retro futures – it’s here, it’s now. That future exists as much as it did then. This is a parallel world and can only access by slipping sideways into it – you don’t travel back.

That’s the strangest thing about something that sounds so effortless, if it was truly effortless then everyone would do it. But they don’t and they can’t. It delivers what I wanted and becomes canon. It was always there, I just hadn’t heard it yet. The strange thing is how it feels like it’s trying to play with a evoking a sense of nostalgia. However, Cybotron were the pioneers of both the style and the sound – Atkins was one of the Belleville Three. This is a sound that is still as alive today as it ever was. It still sounds like the future, or at least a future.


Maintain the mystique:

There aren’t that many artists who can pull off this stunt successfully. You have to have a very particular image. An image that hasn’t become so unwieldy that it controls you. Simultaneously you need to maintain that elusive legendary feel – while still somehow remaining below the radar. To a certain point Kraftwerk used to be able to do this, seemingly quite effortlessly. They could inhabit the present – conjure up a certain sadness melodically. They appeared to keep a critical eye on the rapidly changing present and embrace the technology that they are warning against.

Maybe this is all simply fanciful projection. Is there really a warning of potential dystopias in Kraftwerk, in the New Wave, in electro?

Cold war kids

How is it that Cybotron can release a couple of new tracks after 28 years and they just slot seamlessly back into place?

All these sounds fitted in with that cold war period. Many futures were conjured up, music was less self-conscious – exemplified by Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Two tribes Annihilation 12″ mix. This featured the distinctly unsettling and grave tones of Patrick Allen broadcasting to a population in bunkers after a nuclear strike. Nothing glamorous in this future.

Strange dark days

Then there was Mathew Broderick’s character David in John Badham’s film 1983 film WarGames. Film in the 80s was very much in line with music and the wider culture. A film did not need to be packed with relevant hit singles and marketing tie ins – somehow it would always reflect the moment and feed into it. Everything felt more naturally symbiotic.  In the film Mathew Broderick is obsessed with computer games, if he isn’t in the arcade, he’s in his room trying to get access to the latest software. As David (Broderick)  intensifies his search for a ‘back door’ into a games company server we hear the track ‘Falken’s Maze’. Written by Arthur B Rubinstein it’s a delicious slice of early 80’s electronic music but only for a while. Push past the beautiful inventive electro and it soon ends up as some military bombastic bulls**t a few minutes later.

Foreshadowing a film plot in the music:

This was no doubt a conscious choice by the composer. It serves to indicate the structure of the plot in the music before it is revealed. Despite my frustration at how the thrill of the electro composition descends into a standard bombastic military composition – it does an important job. It describes the arc of the narrative, it creates a sense of inevitability to what is about to happen. On a side note, whoever decided to ditch the vocal that can be heard on the official soundtrack album should be commended.

It was not unusual to simply associate this imagery and these sounds with the act of buying the latest Street Sounds Electro compilation or tracking down vinyl imports. It is irrelevant who was actually on the soundtrack of War Games or Tron – it was the aesthetic we were after. Cybotron were part of the building blocks of the experience of this time – it was also of no consequence if the two events did not coincide – a track a year later could still be part of the overall experience.

In Stranger Things as in the german series Dark – tracks do not necessarily accurately reflect the year but it doesn’t matter as they were still very much in the consciousness of that time.



Is this a game or is it real?

In War Games the music for ‘Falken’s Maze’ foreshadows how the simple thrill of early home computers rapidly leads to an encounter with a war simulation machine – the WOPR. David thinks he has accessed a games company and is under the belief he has some exclusive access to new releases. He fails to realise that his game of Global Thermonuclear War between America and Russia is being taken seriously. As the WOPR plans an all out nuclear strike Mathew Broderick asks the critical question ‘Is this a game or is it real?’ – it’s synthesised voice responds only with “What’s the difference?’

So much technology sneaks in with a friendly face, then before you know what happened you are subservient to it. Missiles tracking pixels on a grainy screen, images tracking FX matts in pop video – serious technology for promo directors in the 90s. Consider then how film and music tech companies were often linked to military technology – consider how the newest tech in films like Top Gun are there through sponsorship and consultations with the military.



Now consider pushing those chunky 80s computer keys of the BBC Acorn or the squishy ZX81 , then pushing the buttons on PS controllers, then doing the same actions for military drones. Is it a game is it real? The answer is it’s real. It all follows a path. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just the path technology takes.

Everywhere you look counter culture has routes in the military. This is not to denigrate culture and what arises from it, or to build elaborate narratives, but to simply be aware everything is linked. Technology appears to move forward of it’s own accord. We follow.



Gremlins everywhere:

If you look back at science fiction films of the 80s or even standard blockbusters you will see technology putting in early appearances in a charming and enjoyable way, memories will be triggered, nostalgia will kick in. You may find yourself wishing you had a hand held space invaders, a Texas instruments Speak and Spell, a digital watch, a Casio keyboard – I know I do.

Fast forward to now, mass surveillance – AI, alongside creative tools beyond comprehension. When you see old gadgets in films the effect is like looking at the cute and cuddly Gremlins. And like the story of Gremlins we try not let our iPhones come into contact with water, and we definitely should not to feed them after midnight (ill considered late night emails and posts) – we do remember to keep them out of sunlight though – tech thrives in the dark spaces, who plays a PS5 in a sunlit room?


The artist as an idea, the band as a concept:

Cybotron created a sound that seems to have an awareness of this dichotomy in our attitude to these futures.  And this is what hooks you in, a way of somehow redefining the power dynamics of the technology – everything is a tool of expression of the artist – the future feels like it warps around the sound. Given the seemingly absurd idea that many classic techno sounds were in fact attempts by manufacturers to make keyboards that sounded like real instruments – it’s incredible where we ended up. Sometimes these early synths where commissioned with the idea of being used for classical or avant-garde compositions. The music that was actually created with these tools was pure subversion on every level.

Despite Kraftwerk’s often repeated idea of them being workers – part of the man machine – Kraftwerk like Cybotron always sounded in control – as strong an artistic vision as any Bob Dylan, Bowie, Joni Mitchell. This is not to make ridiculous comparisons. I’m talking only of the personas they created, the unique worlds – it’s not meant to be a like for like comparison of song writing skills or poetry – it’s about universe building.


Falling in love with dystopias

So hypnotic are these visions that we fall in love with these dystopias. In Blade Runner 2049 there was a review asking ‘Is this really the best we can do regarding the representation of women in the future?’ Fair point for a split second until you remember it’s supposed to be a hellish vision. This is not a future love paradise. Blade Runner is a vision of a society in collapse, held up by technology while all meaning and truth shifts and fades. Humanity decays and becomes an almost abstract idea, hard to define, hard to work out where the defining lines are. It’s as dystopic as it gets. So how did we get so confused that we start to question it as if it was intended as something aspirational?

The key problem is that culturally we all love dystopias, they really don’t function as warnings anymore – to such an extent that a reviewer can criticise Blade Runner 2049 for the lack of progress of equality and lazy tropes in this vision of the future. You could certainly criticise the film for this in it’s own right but that wasn’t the point being made. It’s certainly not a vision of the future anyone should aim for but still, somehow, we do. We build in cultural references in our day to day lives so that the dystopia becomes almost a comfort blanket. A reliable genre, a familiar landscape. No matter how bleak or dysfunctional the source material  they soon become part of our future nostalgia.


Don’t play the game:

Cybotron do not play this game. Maintain does not belong to the past – how can it? It doesn’t sound retro because it was always the future. When they first appeared the future had a lot of catching up to do. And now they are back they move sideways into our reality to check in on us. We watch as we realise how far off track we have gone and try to readjust to the way time flows in this parallel world.  We wonder if there is someway we can slip between the two and not be so obsessed with time flowing one way. Technology here becomes sacred and mystical.

The beauty of lyrics is not only the intended effect or the juxtaposition of ideas but the many ways they can be misunderstood. I like to misunderstand and then listen again and hear something with more clarity. For me the lyrics to Maintain conjured up the idea of the ANGELS. The Angels, in this case  were the guardians of a vast spaceship in a long distant BBC radio drama called Earthsearch.



Return to the missing planet:


In the story of Earthsearch the crew of ten mile long spaceship have been sent on an interstellar mission to look for a suitable planet to colonise. They travel for decade upon decade. After a huge meteoroid strike only four crew members remain. There are vast areas of the ship that are now no longer accessible. All four crew were born on the ship on it’s epic journey. They are the third generation crew. Now in their early twenties the crew were raised by robots and guided by the Angels. Angels – AI systems standing for Ancillary Guardian of Environment and Life. Their disembodied voices control/assist the crew.

Little do the four crew members realise that the Angels engineered the meteor strike by switching off the shields.  The Angels have a plan to control like Gods any future human colony. They manipulate the crew’s thoughts and decisions. These thoughts came to mind as the lyrics floated around my room – technology both as saviour, and dictator. This sits alongside the vision in my head of circling around the outskirts of Cybotron’s classic Techno City.  As the landscape drops away from us and the bridge crosses into downtown everything seems to glitter underneath us like circuitboards.

Later when I listen I hear it as the opposite. Humans rising above a technological prison or is it technology recognising the importance of humanity to it’s own survival?

Cybotron releasing Maintain The Golden Ratio feels like finding a new planet. Like rediscovering Earth after a long period in suspended animation.


Cybotron Maintain The Golden Ratio:

It’s late when I first listen to the second track on the EP – The Golden Ratio. It seems to subvert the first track, it’s lyric free and more locked into an ambient moving space.  It is conjuring up a mid 90s dreamscape, somewhere between dancing and floating. I’m reminded of the track Momutation 3 by Momus. Not the same thing but there is something in the mood it conjures up.

This strikes me as interesting in a completely different way and maybe it’s something to think about another time. Momus, having perfected a lyrically subversive and playful indie electro-pop sound then rejected it entirely. Disputing that this technology was in any way futuristic since keyboards were around since the Beatles. He began to see it as ancient technology. He asked why bother trying to make it sound futuristic, surely it’s counterintuitive? Why not make it sound antiquated, why not make it baroque?

Back to The Golden Ratio as a magical hybrid of late 80s and early 90s flavoured ambient soundscape. Since it’s Cybotron, that doesn’t quite describe it, especially since they pioneered the sound. Old futures spin around my headphones – then it comes into view. I find myself in a vast space watching a thousand screens mounted onto decaying skyscrapers covered in vines and vegetation. Each screen is showing a different version of the future – The Day The Earth Stood Still, War of The Worlds, Alphaville, 2001, The Forbidden Planet, Silent Running, Alien, Tron, The Black Hole, Minority Report. They play endlessly, silently, above me until the sun rises over a deserted city.



Cybotron Maintain The Golden Ratio is available on Bandcamp Here

And added to my spotify playlist In Your Electronic Arms here

Trivia: Full release was 10/13/2023.  10+13 = 23 – i.e. 23/23

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