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Monster black holes fuel Arcade Fire’s cosmic album and performance (video)

Home News Entertainment The 21st century’s cosmic rock scene has a new champion with indie rock band Arcade Fire. The artwork for the band’s new record, “We,” includes an image of the monster black hole M87*  and a song title and lyrics that include our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*.Band members Win Butler and Régine…


The 21st century’s cosmic rock scene has a new champion with indie rock band Arcade Fire.

The artwork for the band’s new record, “We,” includes an image of the monster black hole M87and a song title and lyrics that include our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*.

Band members Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, who are married, performed the songs “We” and “End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A*)” during a news conference held by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on May 12, 2022, for the release of a new black hole image captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — this one of Sagittarius A*. [Watch the performance above.]

Sagittarius Ain pictures: The 1st photo of the Milky Way’s monster black hole explained in images

An Arcade Fire band promo image.

An Arcade Fire band promo image. (Image credit: Arcade Fire)

The first-ever image of a black hole was unveiled by the EHT Collaboration in 2019, and a variation of it is the artwork for the back cover of the Arcade Fire record. The band has been together since the early 2000s, and “We” is their sixth studio album.

Space.com had the opportunity to sit down with Butler for a conversation about the band’s new record and recent performance. The interview has been lightly edited.

Space.com: Great to talk to you, Win. Can you tell us what drew 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. After we had finished the first three parts, I was able to read the article about Sagittarius A*. I had written [its name] onto an index card and would walk past it every day. I was aware that the fourth part of the song was called Sagittarius A*.

The cover of Arcade Fire's record

The cover of Arcade Fire’s record “We.” (Image credit: Arcade Fire)

Space.com: For me at least, the tone of the record sets the stage for a spiritual and introspective experience. Is it possible that some of the music was inspired by looking up at the universe and questioning where we belong in it?

Butler: I feel like there’s so much we don’t know about ourselves. The first half of the recording seems to be about a character who wants to escape from themselves and all the problems on the planet. Butler: I feel like there’s so much we don’t know about ourselves. When they finally get there, they discover their own eyes and the memories of everyone they loved. It’s almost like we are trying to escape from ourselves, but it’s actually all connected.

An image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, a behemoth dubbed Sagittarius A*, revealed by the Event Horizon Telescope on May 12, 2022.

An image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, a behemoth dubbed Sagittarius A*, revealed by the Event Horizon Telescope on May 12, 2022. (Image credit: Event Horizon Telescope collaboration)

Space.com: How do you feel about the just-released image of the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole? It must have been surreal to be able to see it in person so quickly after the release of the record.

Butler: Yeah, it was a great surprise. People have been asking me questions and texting me to ask if it was an elaborate release strategy. It’s not a collaboration. There are telescopes from all over the world, teams from different countries, and a feeling of humanity working together for a common cause. It’s easy to get too focused on the daily issues of our day. I think it’s important to look at things 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 sci-fi novel helped inspire “We”?

Butler: Yeah, my minor is in Russian literature. And I took a class on the ’20s, which is kind of the peak of the Russian Revolution, and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel [“We”] is the first dystopian book that [George Orwell’s] “1984” is directly based on. It was an exciting time in history, with a lot of change. Zamyatin was just raising his hand to say, “Hey guys, like we’re all excited right now. But there might be some issues that I just want flag that we could maybe consider.” Just to have such a prophetic voice — you know, somebody was writing 100 years ago that still has something to say to modernity — is inspiring.

Space.com: Do you have any other science fiction influences that you’re pulling from?

Butler: I love science fiction. William Gibson, a Canadian friend and hero, is one of my favourites. [Neal] Stephenson has always been a favorite of mine. There are too many to list. Orwell is my all-time hero.

Space.com: How did the performance at the ESO press conference come together?

Butler: It literally came in yesterday [May 11]. We had some microphones set up in our house and were home for just a moment. It’s just the piano that we have in our living room, so it was a very intimate performance. It feels exciting, because “We”, the second song that we performed, is an imaginative of the other side, which is a sense of unconditional love, hope, and rebirth. These ideas are not in abundance these days so it’s nice to have something to inspire you.

Space.com: Are there any other aspects of the record that were directly connected to 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 election in November; it’s like peak COVID. It was a crazy, crazy time. We were right by the Mexican border wall. The property where we were was similar to that of the Mexican border wall. We would gather around the fire pit and gaze at the vast West Texas sky at night. And, you know, it’s like this moment in peak COVID, where we can kind of all be together and actually like eat dinner together and hang out outside and just be under the stars, and kind of just to have this sense of being overwhelmed by how precious this planet is that we have and this time we have together.

The cover of Arcade Fire's record

The cover of Arcade Fire’s record “We,” featuring the Event Horizon Telescope image of black hole M87*. (Image credit: Arcade Fire/EHT Collaboration)

Space.com: Did you have a chance to look at the stars through a telescope or do any skywatching while you were there?

Butler: Yeah, when we were there, there was a crazy ring around the moon — the full moon with like this kind of crazy halo. It’s a mystery to me. We all took photos of it, and they were amazing.

Space.com: That’s awesome. These types of experiences are unforgettable and will stay with you forever. It was an inspiring show.

Butler: Thank you.

Learn more about Arcade Fire’s cosmic album “We” on the band’s website.

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Steve Spaleta

Steve Spaleta is Space.com’s Senior Producer. Since 2007, Steve has produced and edited space, science and entertainment-related videos for Space.com. He is also the producer/writer/editor of Space.com’s CosMix series on space-enthused artists. He graduated from the State University of New York Stony Brook in psychology and is originally from Zadar (Croatia) via Astoria, NY. To see Steve’s latest project, follow him on Twitter and follow Space.com’s VideoFromSpace YouTube Channel.

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