Note: This post assumes a thorough understanding of Transistor’s story and setting.
The Camerata is an organization consisting of four individuals who serve as the primary antagonists in Transistor. Given that the organization goes around Cloudbank murdering prominent citizens and inadvertently destroys the city and most of its occupants during the events of the game, it is easy to understand why they are generally considered to be villains. However, given the complex nature of Transistor’s setting, I believe there is a strong argument to be made that the Camerata were actually heroes of a sort, or at the very least, they attempted to do something heroic and tragically failed.
For the sake of coherency, I will first lay out my argument in a concise paragraph, and then expand upon it over the course of two posts.
The short version:
Cloudbank and the universe the city inhabits are a digital world consciously designed by some sort of creator. All of the “people” in Cloudbank are actually deterministic programs run by their own algorithms. The Process is another program which directs the thoughts of Cloudbank’s citizens as well as ordering the structure of the city itself. The members of the Camerata were all programs who became self-aware and discovered the Process and its influence over Cloudbank. The four members attempted a plan to free themselves and the citizens of Cloudbank from the Process’s control, but unfortunately their attempts backfired during the events of the game. Though many of the Camerata’s actions may ostensibly appear to be immoral, they are defensible within an understanding that the nature of Cloudbank’s world is fundamentally different from our own.
And now, the long version:
Cloudbank and its Inhabitants
Within Transistor’s fan community, there is a strong consensus that Cloudbank is a digital world. Here is an excellent description of all of the programming terminology used in the game, including “Cloudbank” being a reference to memory storage, “the Process” referring to programs operating on a computer, and a transistor being the “most basic building block of a computer.” This has enormous implications for the nature of the characters and how the city functions.
To connect Cloudbank’s digital nature to the Camerata’s behavior, I need to briefly digress into some philosophy and step away from Transistor…
There is a fundamental fact of existence known as the “law of identity.” The law of identity states that every entity in existence has certain properties. That is, for an entity to exist, it must exist as something, and further, it cannot act in any way other than according to the nature of its own existence (ie. a rock cannot have a heartbeat because it is not in a rock’s nature to be alive). A corollary to the law of identity is the “law of causality,” which states that all activity is caused by entities acting in accordance with their nature (ie. a rock falls when it is dropped from a cliff because it is heavier than air).
Though there are always ongoing debates on the subject, I and most other people believe that human beings have free will. This means that my sovereign consciousness makes decisions which I then enact in the world through the force of my own will. Meanwhile, a “determinist” would say that every thought and decision I ever make are not actually products of my own will, but rather are predetermined by past events. This is because free will violates the laws of causality. How can a person just make a decision without some other entity causing this decision to be made via the law of causality?
Free will advocates counter that, in accordance with the law of identity, human beings are “self-causal” by nature, and are therefore uniquely capable of creating their own causes in existence. In other words, though the rest of the activity in existence occurs due to long causal chains, human beings have free will and are able to make their own decisions which effect the world around them and create new causal chains.
Back to Transistor…
If Cloudbank is a digital world, then somebody in the “real” world must have designed it. This means the fundamental structure and rules of Cloudbank, like the existence of gravity, the temperature at which water boils, and the physical contents of the city, were all designed by a conscious creator. Where this fact becomes especially important is its implications for the human beings who live in Cloudbank. Who, or what, are the inhabitants of Cloudbank?
One possibility is that the residents of Cloudbank are human beings in the real world who are plugged into a digital reality a la the Matrix. In that case, Cloudbank metaphysically functions in much the same way as reality does, wherein beings with free will exist in a realm which is otherwise determined. The only difference would be that the determined aspects of the digital world are the product of a confirmed god-like creator and that said creator can change the world’s structures and settings at any time.
Another possibility is that all of the inhabitants are mere programs. In this case, the citizens of Cloudbank are just processes running according to their programmed orders and are not fundamentally different from the streets or buildings of the city itself. They have no free will, so their actions are entirely predetermined.
What I think is actually the case, based off of the evidence presented in the game, is that the citizens of Cloudbanks were all incredibly complex programs, each of which ran off of their own predetermined algorithms, until a few of them became self-aware beings with free will. The members of the Camerata, or at the very least Royce Bracket, Grant Kendrell, and Asher Kendrell, were those few.
Though the Camerata was the brain child of Grant Kendrell, its mission came from the discoveries of Royce Bracket. Based on his bio, Royce was a prominent engineer in Cloudbank who transformed the city according to the will of the population’s democratic voting process. Royce felt pride in his work, but couldn’t become attached to anything he produced because the people demanded such rapid changes to the city. Eventually Royce noticed cyclical patterns in their directives. “The will of the people changed in cycles. Bridges would come down in favor of railways. Railways would give way to parks. New bridges would then be built upon the parks, and so on.” In response, Royce used his remarkable engineering skills to build “avant garde structures” he believed “would persist beyond the immediate urges of the population.” Not only was he unsuccessful, but his failures sank his once promising career, and Royce fell into obscurity. Rather than toil as a minor component of a pointlessly repetitive machine, Royce opted to leave his job to pursue his own research on the city’s patterns and soon “discovered a formula visualizing exactly how the structures of Cloudbank formed.”
All of this is very clearly stated in Royce’s profile and is easy to understand. Things get a little more complicated at the end of Royce’s bio:
“He studied this formula closely for it filled him with a deep sense of wonder and even deeper sense of dread. He developed predictive algorithms to determine where and when the visualization would take form, and began drawing it out with his own architectural plans, until one day he found it in its natural state. He saw beyond the confines of the city into something more, and there before him was something extraordinary. He took it, and realized the things he saw now stood at his call.”
This description is very abstract and requires a lot of in-game dialogue to decipher. The “natural state” of the “pattern” is the Process and it “stood at his beck and call” because Royce discovered the Transistor. This implies that the discovery of the Process and the Transistor happened simultaneously. Consider this line of dialogue from Royce:
“Where I found it (the Transistor), why, I found it on a lark. Right around here, geographically speaking. Although geography was only one small factor. There was also the math. Awful lot of math involved. Wasn’t entirely myself when I found it you might say.”
By my reading of this part, it sounds like Royce was able to create predictive algorithms based off the “pattern” which could tell him precisely what type, where, and when alterations to the city would occur. He then built structures to coincide with the algorithm’s predictive models, and at some point this triggered some sort of enlightenment or awakening during which time Royce discovered the Transistor and gained the ability to visually see the Process.
What is the Process? In Royce Bracket’s words:
“What can I say about the Process? The Process is, let’s see, old. Old as this town. Stubborn too, not prone to flights of fancy, very ethical, really. Follows a certain code, a certain set of rules. Rules of course can change, everything can change.”
“Whenever people make a change, whether to the sea or the sky or anywhere in between, the Process does the real work. Invisible, behind the scenes. Well I say whoever does the real work ought to get the credit. So I found a way to put the Process center stage. The Transistor was my conductor’s baton, if you will. A way to keep the Process in concert, in harmony.”
Essentially, the Process is the program which orders the fundamental flow of existence within the universe that contains Cloudbank. It is described as a natural phenomenon, and at one point is compared to aliens. Indeed, the Process is not actually of Cloudbank, but rather is a program designed by the creators of Cloudbank to run crucial operations within Cloudbank.
A common mistake Transistor fans make is to assume that the Process only determines the structure and design of the physical city of Cloudbank (ie. the roads, the bridges, the buildings, etc.). In truth, while the Process does control the city’s physical space, it primarily controls its citizens by directing the opinions and tastes of the entire population. It can be inferred that if the inhabitants of Cloudbank are indeed programs, then they primarily operate in accordance with their own particular algorithms, but apparently the Process overrides these algorithms and directs their thoughts on certain matters. It isn’t clear how large the scope of the Process’s control is, but according to Royce and Grant Kendrell, the Process seems to control all of the matters upon which the citizens of Cloudbank vote, which includes the city’s layout, its architectural style, the weather, and a vast array of political and social issues.
In other words, the Process is a deterministic force over the inhabitants of Cloudbank. The Process proves that the inhabitants of Cloudbank do not have free will.
Consider the careers of Royce Bracket, Grant Kendrell, and Asher Kendrell. Royce was an engineer who redesigned the city according to popular vote and eventually noticed repetitive patterns in the population’s dictates. Grant was a city administrator who prided himself in facilitating whatever the majority voted for, until he “realized he had fought for virtually every social position at one time or another” and had chronically subdued his own policy preferences. Asher was a reporter who looked into Cloudbank’s history and found “the deeper he delved, the more frustrated he became with all the dead ends and contradictions.” The commonality between all three is that they examined the long-term preferences of Cloudbank’s population and discovered trends which were simultaneously cyclically ordered, yet arbitrarily so.
From the Camerata’s perspective, the Process wasn’t just a weird anomaly. It was a physical manifestation of the metaphysical structure of their universe. The Process is the very essence by which Cloudbank changes. It is an entity which steers the minds of every single person they know (with the apparent exception of the Camerata members). The Camerata discovered that the citizens of Cloudbank did not have free will, but rather had their minds controlled by an indescribable entity not of any known design.
Continued in Part 2.