one giant leap for mankind

a video for dayvan cowboy has been released. it’s the only video Boards of Canada have ever released, and it’s a precursor to their forthcoming EP trans canada highway.
as you may have read here previously, i am a huge fan of Boards of Canada, probably to the point of having a blind spot the size of a (hexagon) sun regarding aspects of their work that don’t, well, work. you have been warned.

dayvan cowboy is the best track on their latest album. at work this week, i went so far as to opine that it was their best song ever (ask elaine – i never use superlatives ;-)). watching the video just made me more foamy around the lips. wow.

a friend forwarded it to me, and while watching it, he and i were chatting over IM. he said, “it looks like they sound.” that seemed a pretty apt description, yet prior to seeing the video, i would have been hard-pressed to visualize a representation of the BoC sound. now i will be hard-pressed to imagine anything else, or to get the video out of my head.

the song is roughly five minutes long, with a long, slow intro that changes significantly at the 2m06s mark. the second part of the song is linked stylistically with the first, yet different; guitars combine with violins, and then the drums and symbols come crashing in at 3m08s, punctuated all the while by a beautiful synth melody floating in and around the other layers of sound. for me, it evokes an odd combination of happiness and melancholy.

the video follows a similar structure, with two distinct stories, if you will, linked and yet not linked. the first 2m08s of the video are one of the most frightening and awe-inspiring things i have ever seen. they used real footage of Joseph Kittinger performing the highest altitude parachute jump ever recorded.

joseph kittinger high-altitude jump
on august 16, 1960, kittinger used a special balloon to climb to an altitude of 102,800 feet (19.4 miles) and then proceeded to jump out of the gondola wearing 60lbs of gear and a parachute. he was in freefall for 4.5 minutes (85,000 feet), and reached a maximum speed of 614 mph, nearly breaking the speed of sound without an aircraft. this was the third time he had done such jumps, previously bailing out at 76,000 and 74,700 feet on two jumps spaced three weeks apart. he nearly died on the first jump; he lost consciousness after a parachute malfunction caused him to wind up in a 120rpm flat spin (his emergency reserve chute saved his life). i guess he just filed that one under “sh*t happens” and decided to get back on the horse.

he had already been awarded the distinguished flying cross for his initial high-altitude balloon flights. after three heroic and unbelievable freefalls from space, one might imagine Joe would just hang it up and retire to a nice calm life in Florida watching take-offs from Cape Canaveral. nah. he was only 32, after all; he had a whole life ahead of him.
after surviving being the first man in space without the benefit of a spaceship, kittinger went on to serve three tours of duty in vietnam, flying 483 combat missions. he was shot down and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war in the hanoi hilton, and was subsequently released. he retired from the air force in 1978, and spent the next five years setting balloon navigation records left and right. he still tours around the country flying a biplane, taking kids on their first flights.

we need more heroes like joseph kittinger, people who demonstrate courage beyond reason and show that humans are capable of a great deal more than what we limit ourselves to. it also wouldn’t be too bad to have more musicians like Boards of Canada who show us transcendence in other ways. ;-)

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