INTRO (ELENA): Conspiracy and mystery make for ripe subjects. Walk the twisting turning avenue towards the truth about The Deca Tapes, right here on Radio Drama Revival.
[theme music – smooth, jazzy horns playing a mellow, sultry tune that fades out gradually as Elena speaks]
Hello, and welcome to Radio Drama Revival, the podcast that showcases the diversity and vitality of modern audio fiction. I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. Today, we’re interviewing Lex Noteboom, creator of The Deca Tapes which we featured last week.
Lex Noteboom started out in advertising and marketing in Amsterdam, and worked in that industry until he quit in order to pursue his creative career. Before jumping into creating The Deca Tapes, he went on a European bike tour. I ask him about writing practices, about that bike tour, and about the core concept of unreliable narrators as the main voices in conspiracy fiction.
The Deca Tapes is a hard podcast to talk about in an interview if you don’t want your audience to be completely spoiled in the first ten minutes. To that end, Lex and I agreed on a spoiler zone. The first half of this interview will be questions that don’t require having listened to the entire series, and didn’t require referencing that overarching plot and resolution. The second half is the spoiler zone, and I do recommend you do not progress beyond this point if you haven’t finished listening and if you care about that kind of thing.
Please be aware that this interview contains discussion of memory loss and the prison industrial complex.
ELENA: Hello, and welcome to Radio Drama Revival, the podcast that showcases the diversity and vitality of modern audio fiction. I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. Today, we’re interviewing Lex Noteboom.
ELENA: So thank you for coming on the show, Lex. We’re really, really excited to talk to you about The Deca Tapes.
LEX: Thank you for having me! It’s kind of a legendary show. So, when I got the email, I was like, now I’m in the club.
ELENA: Oh! [delighted laugh] Thanks! On the podcast, one thing real quick. You talked about how you quit your job in advertising and took a bike tour through Europe before you started production on The Deca Tapes. Tell me about the bike ride. And about the transition that you made from your traveling vacation to working independently on a creative project.
LEX: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. Because it was, it was a really good way to transition. Because when you’re — it was a pretty extreme bike ride. First of all, because the distance was insane. To make it, we had to cover sometimes 180 kilometers a day.
ELENA: Wow. That’s a lot. Yeah.
LEX: Yeah, but secondly, because I’m not a professional or a longtime biker, and neither was my buddy. [chuckle] So that made it even more hard. And you kind of — you kind of have to get yourself in a kind of trance to make it through the motions every day. And that kind of clears your mind. So by the time I came back, I was really ready to just sit down and write an honest story. And I had the main concept already, but I had to write all the episodes. So coming back from a hectic advertising life, and using three weeks of cycling and torturing my body to clear your mind was, I think, unconsciously the best — the best way of getting myself out of that world and into a more introspective, creative space. So yeah, it was great.
ELENA: That’s amazing. Yeah, no. Bikes terrify me. I actually never learned how to ride a bike. So this is incredibly impressive to me. For our non-kilometers audience, 180 kilometers is about 110 miles.
LEX: Yup. Which is doable! But if you do it three weeks in a row, you will feel it!
ELENA: That’s a lot of kilometers.
LEX: And again, we weren’t — we weren’t — we prepared. There’s a difference between preparing and being properly trained. We weren’t properly trained to do this. Which made it more interesting, I think.
ELENA: Yeah, fair. Where did you go through Europe?
LEX: So we went through the Netherlands, leaving from Amsterdam, through Belgium, through France, across the mountains through Spain into Portugal, so pretty much the entire — apart from Scandinavia, the entire continent, from north to south.
ELENA: Yeah, that’s a lot of countries. That’s incredibly impressive. I can see why that would require this trance state in order to make it through.
LEX: There’s — yeah, there’s like, dudes twice my age who would do it without a problem, but those are hardcore lifetime cyclists? And they wouldn’t, they would — first of all, they wouldn’t be as impressed as I am with myself. They wouldn’t make such a symbolic melodramatic thing out of it, but I don’t care. That’s just, it was pretty crazy.
ELENA: I know from previous articles that I’ve read about The Deca Tapes that you read an article that inspired The Deca Tapes, which we can’t talk about here, because it’s spoilers. But what other things influence the show, either in terms of the scripts and the plot, or the music and the sound design?
LEX: Yeah, that article really, really set it off. But another huge influence was the three Southern Reach books. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them? Yeah, yeah.
ELENA: Yes. The Jeff VanderMeer Southern Reach books.
LEX: Exactly. Yeah. And I only realized this afterwards. But it’s so obvious that it’s — that it’s undeniable. But there’s an expedition of women that travels into, let’s say, a mysterious area. And they use their function within the group as their names. But that’s it — conceptually, they’re still themselves. And of course, in The Deca Tapes — we can talk about this without spoiling — it’s a group of people whose identity has completely been overtaken by their function. So, the guy who’s called The Cleaner — everything that moves him, everything, his entire worldview is based around him being Cleaner. And I was reading those books while — or I finished them close to when I started writing, and only afterwards, I realized, of course, I stole this from him! [chuckle] And conceptualized it in a different way. But still, it’s undeniable that the first inspiration of building a group dynamic around what you’re supposed to do? That’s completely out of those three books. Very different story, but that was huge, huge inspiration.
And another huge inspiration was, I was watching lots and lots of David Lynch interviews in which he talks about never losing track of the initial idea and really focusing on that and letting that initial idea come to life instead of conceptualizing it over and over again. Yeah, and I just kept rewatching YouTube clips of him saying that, Well, I conceptualized over and over again!
No, but do you see what I mean? [laugh] It’s really hard to not reinvent yourself to give you a good feeling at the end of the day because you’re like oh, I thought of this new aspect and I did a good job. No, just make the — make the initial intent grow and show its many facets. It’s so hard to do and I’m not good at it yet. But yeah, that was also a big inspiration.
ELENA: I love that. I love that so much. For audience members who are interested in the Southern Reach trilogy. You might know it actually and because they made a movie out of the first book, Annihilation, with Natalie Portman. So the books are-
LEX: Did you read the books?
ELENA: I love the books. I adore them. They are exactly the kind of weird surrealism exploration into humanity and memory and group communication and dynamics that I love. Like, super amazing. If you haven’t read them and you like the weird shit — you got to like the weird shit because VanderMeer only writes weird shit.
LEX: Okay. You probably the chances of whoever is listening to this interview is pretty, pretty big that they like the weird shit.
ELENA: It’s pretty big. Yeah. But yeah, I highly recommend them. They’re just so good, especially the first book, like, damn.
LEX: Yeah. And I’ve been on like, a completely different side of the spectrum. I was reading a lot about . . . I’m not sure if this is an English word, but panopticons?
LEX: So yeah, so they were experimenting with different prison systems, one of which being one where you’re — where you can’t see the guard. So you’re not sure if you’re being watched. So the prisoners will just assume they’re being watched. And behave — there was this theory. And that made me delve into more of the philosophical stances on what it is to be imprisoned.
ELENA: So the music is original to the show, right? And it contains a lot of context clues for what we’re listening to. Each character has their own motif and soundtrack. So first, What can your audience listen for throughout the eight episodes in the music, right? I love asking creators that have original scoring, like what is it that audiences can particularly listen for in the music as they’re experiencing the story?
LEX: Yeah, this was so much work because I went completely the wrong direction in my first versions. So early on, I had this idea of making a soundtrack for each — so maybe, for context, it’s a group of 10 people. And each episode is from a different — from the perspective of a different member of the group. So through the shifting perspective, you learn what’s going on.
And so each episode, there’s another narrator, and I wanted to have each — I wanted to create a soundtrack for each narrator, like you said, but the problem is that in my first version, I made a soundtrack for the narrator all the way through. And let’s get into the technical details of storytelling, but it didn’t work for some reason, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t figure out what, why.
But then, at some point, I realized that sometimes the one — the theme you need to hear is of whomever is the protagonist of that part of the story. So it’s not always the narrator who’s pushing forward the story. So you guys aired the first episodes before this interview, right?
ELENA: Yeah, yeah. The first episode.
LEX: So in that interview, the Cleaner’s the narrator, but the protagonist is clearly the Cook who is the only rebelling party. So her theme is really important in that first episode, because she’s the one, because her theme is about being disoriented, having to ask awkward questions. That theme is much more — it’s claustrophobic. While the Cleaners theme is much more staccato, about staying in line, about keeping things orderly. So you can see how I had to play with that perspective.
As to what audiences can expect there’s many, many, many easter eggs in every episode. And I’m sure yeah, ninety percent will never get uncovered because I’ve hid them too well.
But it surprised me actually, when the — when I started releasing the show how many details got picked up really, really soon. But there’s some theoretical hardcore easter eggs in there, which maybe one day I should just — I should just reveal the secrets because they’re fun, but maybe I shouldn’t. I’m not sure. But if you’re like an audio geek, there’s lots of secret stuff in there to discover.
ELENA: I love that. Another show that people might be familiar with that he also has a ton of Easter eggs and secrets built into the music is Marsfall. Yeah, Marsfall is another one that does that. So I love this role of music. I think that music often gets like a short shrift in some in some spaces, especially spaces that are visually oriented. So what is the role of music for you? And storytelling in general.
LEX: Yeah, huge. I mean on — everybody who loves movies, at least subconsciously, loves music because that’s, that’s at least 50%, if not more, in some cases, in my opinion — to get back to Lynch, images and sounds flowing together in time, that’s a movie. So you need both.
For me, it was a breakthrough, because I’ve always written manuscripts . . . and I’ve made music, as two separate worlds. And then when I had the idea for this story, and it didn’t work as a manuscript, and for some reason, I thought it would work as audio. And then I discovered this whole audio drama podcast world. Those two worlds came together. And it kind of — it kind of blew my mind how obvious it was that I was working on — like, I was making concept albums and stuff like that, and writing stories, why why not combine the two.
And for me, the big plus is that you’re able to have the characters do what humans do in real life. So make — so keep the tempo up and make the conversations realistic and not really descriptive, right? To try and make it as real as possible. And in literature, when you delve into the more introspective, abstract, emotional dimension of what’s going on, you can have the music do that. Right?
So I really tried to stretch that also in sound design. So sometimes you’ll hear a fire, but there’s not literal fire, because it’s impossible to be a fire at wherever they are. But that’s a way of extrapolating what’s going on inside the heart of the narrator. So that way it frees up — the music takes over the abstract part. And writing is all about making the characters real.
ELENA: Yeah, we have also done a couple of podcasts that sort of play with this concept, right? Where the music — what it does is that it focuses on the abstract concepts in order to — well, in some cases, not in yours, but in order to just sort of heighten emotion and feeling right. But here, other than that, it’s also helping you free up space for what it is that you want to do with music and with the narrators.
LEX: It’s a very information dense show, I think.
ELENA: Mmm, it is, yeah.
LEX: So I needed — I needed space because the first versions of the script were too — were asking too much of a listener who’s maybe driving to work or, I don’t know. And sometimes I feel maybe it’s still on the verge of being too information dense here and there. But music helped, yeah, free up the space, just like you said.
ELENA: One of the strengths of monologue based found footage style is the awesomeness of the unreliable narrator, which is a concept The Deca Tapes plays with throughout. And we can hear in the first episode very clearly right? With the cleaners focus on cleaning and not wanting to — like the way that he perceives the Cook’s . . . actions right and words — what’s the importance of the unreliable narrator and recognizing their unreliability not just in fiction stories, but in how our real stories play out in things like the media and advertising?
LEX: Yeah, I’m so happy you framed it like this, because the show has been received really well. But the only places where it wasn’t received as well was because of it being monologues. And that’s — that kind of hurt my feelings extra because the whole concept is impossible to do without it being monologues. Because it’s built, exactly as you said, around the memory, the untrustworthy memory of an individual. Yeah.
So that was one of the main concepts to build on. And I think in the day and age right now, it’s of course this untrustworthiness of narratives is magnified by social media, obviously, by the internet, maybe in the largest sense. So I could have told that story through a huge context. But I thought it would be interesting to use the dynamics you see are in the world right now and make them really small — like a group of 10 people who interact by talking to each other. That’s, that’s, that’s really basic dynamics, but then them having to talk about their day to a microphone, to something that doesn’t respond, I think everybody will automatically start defending whatever it is they did.
And what’s really interesting to me is when you think about your actions and where they come from, you kind of don’t have that much control in the moment, right? We’re really good at reflecting and selling ourselves a narrative about why we did certain things. But if you try and analyze the second you started something or responded in a certain way, most of the time, we’re not sure where that stuff comes from. So you’re kind of witnessing yourself, in a way.
And that’s why I think it’s very human, that we’re unreliable narrators — I think we are unreliable narrators. Because we, we have to build this narrative about ourselves. It becomes dangerous when we start using that skill to tell others what the truth is or what the mechanics of this world are. And that’s what’s happening now, in the media a lot. That everything–
Well, first of all, we’re not — we’re not being honest about the fact that we’re unreliable narrators. And second of all, we need to reflect on everything for some reason, everybody reflects on everything as this unreliable narrator so as to that dynamic is so weird, and it makes the concept of truth so obscure. So I thought it would be really interesting to grab that and use it on the smallest dynamic possible, which is a tiny group of people who have to try and get through the day together.
ELENA: I love that. I love that. I think that this concept of all of us, of people using this narrative that they have sold themselves and using their status, in order to promote this narrative is, I think, something that marginalized groups in particular are really familiar with, right? Because this is just how history books were written, right? It’s people selling their narrative. And like they’re all unreliable narrators. And they continue to be so because we do all of this perception and reflection from the point of life that we live.
LEX: It’s interesting that, in all of history, the good guys always won the war. How is that possible? It must be that the winner gets to design the narrative. And guess who’s the good guy in that narrative?
ELENA: Yep. Hello, colonizers.
ELENA: So quarantine, right. And then the pandemic, kind of threw everyone’s schedules for everything out the window, like yeeted straight into space. [laugh] But what have you been working on? lately?
LEX: I’ve been working on a Dutch story, which consists of a novel and a podcast. So through The Deca Tapes, because of The Deca Tapes, I got asked . . . many different kinds of creative companies to come and talk about what made me sit in a room for a year and record a podcast. [laugh] And amongst them, publishers, so I got to meet fiction publishers, and one of them had me pitch a bunch of concepts.
And, so now I’m working on my first novel, which is awesome, and kind of a dream come true. So we’re making a novel that takes place in a former Soviet state that actually doesn’t exist. And the podcast is in the same place, but it’s from a different perspective. So it’s to — the book is one perspective. And the podcast is a different perspective. But the narrative is set up in a way that you can either only read the book, or only read the podcast, or first listen to the podcast, and then the book or the other way around. And it’ll work — it’ll work both ways. And it’s really freaking hard, but it’s a lot of fun.
Yeah, I think — yeah.
ELENA: Is your website says that it’s The Man With 1000 Faces?
LEX: –With 1000 Faces. Yeah. Yeah. And actually, the podcast is called The Woman With 1000 Faces.
ELENA: Oh, love it. Love it. So this is very exciting. I love — I love this multimedia work that we’re seeing a lot of in audio now like a — more of in audio now, like where audio has been designed for audio but is tied to something else at the same time, right? It’s not that the podcast came after or the book came later, right. But that there’s this intentional multimedia experience.
LEX: I just, I never really got — like in the case of Southern Reach, like we were talking about. It’s kind of an interesting example because he made the movie based on his memories of the books, so he only read them once. So it’s vaguely based on it. Which is, which is more interesting. But still, it’s kind of — the books work because they’re books. Why not tell a different story in that universe that’s perfect for cinema? You know, I never got the whole adaptation thing.
Yeah, so I love — I love to think of an idea for a story as like almost a sun in a universe. And then you can build planets that can exist around that particular sun. So in this case, it’s this weird country that doesn’t exist. And the podcast is like a bunch of phone conversations — that’s why it works in audio. And the book is, like a bunch of reports, witness reports and, and stuff like that. That’s why it works in a book, you know? I just, I love playing with the medium like that. And I also love expanding the universe, because you force yourself to really build a world before you get started, and think of all the insane details [chuckle] before you start diving, because otherwise, you’re — well, in my case, you could be halfway through the book and completely corner myself for — in the podcast, you know? I’m forced to think the entire world which is, of course, crazy, but yeah, that’s why we’re talking right now. Because we’re not right in the head. [chuckle]
ELENA: That’s really cool. I’m very excited for this.
LEX: I’m hoping — we’re — I’m already talking. We’re in early, early stages, but we’re already talking about possibilities, having it translated to English. So yeah, I really hope that’s going to happen.
ELENA: Yes! Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed. For our Dutch audience — we have some — we have some people in the Netherlands. Just look out for this. I guess. This sounds very exciting.
LEX: I’ll be spamming it on Deca channels, I’m afraid.
ELENA: Good! As you should. Self promotion is not bad! Message to all independent creatives that are scared of self promotion.
LEX: Yeah, just for the record. I’ve spent a year making the show and then a year promoting it — only promoting it. So never underestimate. Never underestimate the importance of marketing.
ELENA: [laugh] Absolutely. So I’m going to ask the question that I’m sure that everyone has asked you. Um, but since you talked about expanding universes, is Season Two still in the works for the Deca group universe? Or on the plate? I guess?
LEX: Well, it’s — I’m going to make a season two for sure. But I need money. [chuckle] Yeah. So the Deca story in my mind is three seasons. That’s what it takes to complete the narrative. And there’s one spin off story, which I’ve already made. You can–
ELENA: Mmm, Puzzle Box, right?
LEX: Yeah. And once with those three big stories and the one spin-off story, that’s then the whole that’s the whole story. Like I — like I’ve originally envisioned it. And I know I — so I know the entire concept of the second season. The third very roughly, but the second pretty detailed. The big problem is, I funded the first one out of my own pocket and it was really expensive for the production level. Like, like mastering it — this alone is expensive.
So either I get really rich. [laugh] Maybe by selling a bunch of books or something — I don’t know.
Then I’ll start or — I’m also — yeah, how do I say this discreetly? Talking to parties that I might work together with in getting this thing off the ground. Yes, so money is the big thing. And don’t hold your breath. Because if, let’s say the money — say theoretically, tomorrow, somebody offers me the full budget. That would mean tomorrow I start writing the first sentence of the first episode. So there’s, yeah, there’s lots of work to be done. But-
ELENA: There’s still, at minimum, a year’s worth of work right?
LEX: Yeah, before release. So if tomorrow I get the money, it’ll still take a year for it to come out. So that’s bad news. And like, I know you shouldn’t say this ever. But the good news is that it’s really, really good. Like the concept. I’ve talked the concept through with some people that I really trusted on helping me read the screenplay for the first — or the script for the first season. And these are critical, critical people, and they’re just as excited as I am. So one way or another, I’m going to make this one day. And I’m also going to make Season Three one day, but yep, yeah, don’t hold your breath. And I’ll be working on cool other stuff in the meantime, which hopefully, also satisfies Deca fans.
ELENA: For those of you listening, and stay tuned for the credits on the Patreon for The Deca Tapes, and how to support Lex in making this new season. If you have a bunch of money, you know-
LEX: [jokingly] Give it to me.
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As you continue, you’re now entering the spoiler zone. All aboard.
ELENA: So at this point, I’m going to transition us into the spoiler zone. So all of the questions that I’m going to ask you now are big thought philosophy questions that are tied with the intrinsic core of the show, and the stuff that we don’t know when we listened to the first episode. So first, I need to know what was the article that you read that inspired the show? And tell me what about it sparked the need to craft the story that we have?
LEX: Okay, so the article was about a spacecraft landing on a distant planet, and it had been traveling for decades. And this, this sparked my imagination of the weird — the weird job, some — a team at NASA must have, that they prepare everything for this mission, send it out, and probably not all of them are even alive anymore, right? So that sparked my imagination that there would be a point where we would be physically able to visit distant planets or, or other galactic bodies, but you wouldn’t survive the journey because it would simply take too long. Right? So that’s that, that also fascinated me.
And then I thought, well, you could of course, make the journey. And then can the major spoiler. If it was a generation ship, right? So it wouldn’t be you. But it would be your offspring that got there. But then I thought, that’s a pretty shitty deal. Right?
LEX: So to do that voluntarily, well, you wouldn’t, or the rewards would be great. But then, of course, the first — the first one is easier. So well, long story short, the only way to get there to have to get people to do that would be to make a miniature civilization where they would feel it was the right place to to have offspring. Yeah, so that — the article was about the length of the journey, not related to human life. I made that step, and I really liked — I really liked the sense, like the sense of the slaves in Egypt, building the pyramids, right? So, doing something huge and symbolic and something that’s in all the history books, but the way they did it was so ruthless, like that contrast, was really interesting to me for reveal.
And to have the contrast work, I knew I couldn’t, I couldn’t reveal the purpose up until the very end, because first you had to get to know these people, right? If you call them the slaves, it’s — you, of course, feel empathy. But it’s harder to identify with them. So that’s when I knew it had to be a plot twist. Because first you really had to become a part of the group before it would reveal the purpose of their journey. And I think — I thought that that would be the only way to get that pyramid contrast across — long answer, but articles — article about a spacecraft.
ELENA: Love that answer! Article about a spacecraft landing several decades after it launched. Yeah. So, gosh, okay, which one of these questions do I tie in here? Whoo. A prison system that is completely privatized. And so the Deca group runs this private prison system where they test these slow ships where you build this, like you said, this sort of like generation ship — I, I have — like, to a mining colony — I’ve got like 5000 questions.
But the one that I want to — that I want to focus on a little bit is this. This concept that is embedded in this sense for the generation ship that you have designs, right? Which is that it’s — that it’s a shitty deal. And in particular, right, these are the offspring of prisoners who are being sent to a mining colony and are living a life sentence for their parents, right and for their grandparents, for their ancestors — you know, just tell me a little bit more about this, about this concept of like, intergenerational trauma and sort of expectancy that is placed on these on these people. What went into this design?
LEX: So, I’m fascinated with the emotional inheritance we carry without realizing it, possibly. I mean, what do I know, but if you think of — if you think of us as part of an evolutionary chain, right? Indirectly, with our ancestors, but through our parents directly linked to them, they’ve raised us a certain way, which is, of course, informed by their personality and their environment, but in a huge part, by the way they were raised by their parents. So we’re probably inheriting traumas from generations before us, right? There’s all these there’s all these — and also positive things, of course. There’s all these things informing the way we move through life without us realizing it, which are which are linked to our family lines. Then there’s also, of course, societies informing the way those bloodlines are moving, right? If you — if you’re born — this very obvious maybe, but like the Deca executive in the final episode, draws the comparison with children in projects and uses it as a justification, which is hopefully, to everybody listening, really fucked up
ELENA: Horrifying and bad! [laugh]
LEX: I maybe was a bit on the nose but I want — but you don’t hear the — it’s a phone conversation with the executive, but you don’t hear the other one talking. Because I wanted it — I wanted the listener to be on the phone with them for the big moral because I really wanted you to try and step out of the futuristic world and get back to our world and reflect on this concept of carrying your family’s or your parents’ burden. Like everybody does.
But then I thought how can I make this more extreme? Right? How can I? How can I already throughout the story make this theme more prevalent? And that’s when the deleting the memory came in. Because it’s not perfect — there still — there’s still something left.
So if your long term memories are erased, what is your personality? What is what is the basic mechanism of — on which you operate. So after their memories are deleted, they get instructions on how to live their life and they and they get assigned a certain role. But not all cleaners on all slow ships are the same probably, right? We don’t know. But we must assume that our — that our basic systems are also, to a certain degree, individual. So those differ.
So that really freed that concept really freed me up to play with it in — well, take the Farmer for example. He, through a huge misunderstanding — he thinks he saves his parents from a criminal enterprise, but actually his parents were part of it. So he murders the wrong people. And he has these flashbacks of blood on his hands, but he projects that onto the situation he’s in — he almost starts believing that he’s the murderer himself, and everybody around him starts believing that he’s the murderer. But what he’s doing is trying to reconcile with a past that he doesn’t understand.
And that’s exactly what happens to us in a way, because we don’t know what burdens got carried over to us from, I don’t know, seven generations ago. So that changes your whole look on what informs my memory. What informs my behavior? Once you understand that it could be old and unknowable, you get to how important it is to self reflect in an abstract and really open minded way. And that doesn’t mean you’re not scientific anymore. It just means you understand the power of upbringing and environment. This — you’re really letting me let me rant this fine evening.
ELENA: Yeah, no, I am. Absolutely, absolutely. That’s what this show is for! I ask wildly, like personal philosophical questions. And then I just let people rant. That’s just — that’s my role here.
LEX: But that question is like the main — so, with that question, you really get to the main motivator of building characters like this, because they’re both — on an individual level, completely, without context on why they do what they do. Except that they, they just do it. But also in a more broader sense, because they are — they will have offspring that will live a life that they will never see, right? So on on both sides. There’s a curtain. They don’t know where they’re from, and they don’t know where they’re going. And what happens with a group of people who has curtains on both sides. They start projecting meaning, where of course the mystery function comes in, right? He’s the — he’s kind of-
ELENA: The preacher?
LEX: Yeah, he’s kind of the societal emergency break. Like, is there? Is there a collective meltdown? Let’s find meaning. And even — because, everybody who heard the show knows, he brings religion, like some sort of religion, which is actually based on an actual cult, but I’m not going to give away which one. If you haven’t figured out — the whole concept is based on an actual cult. And you’ll see a lot of symbols there that I use. But-
ELENA: Yes, I suppose it would have been! Sorry, I — that literally, like, as soon as you said like, Oh, it’s based on a real cult. I was just like, wait, what?
LEX: From a long, long time ago.
ELENA: And then suddenly like, yeah, from a very long time ago. So yeah, I’m not gonna, yeah, everybody go. If you have — if you’ve listened to it already — obviously, if you’re listening to part, I would hope that you’ve listened already. Yeah, if you didn’t figure that out? I suggest you listen back. And piece it together. Oh, that’s very interesting!
LEX: Maybe I’ll just say this. There’s — sometimes there’s talk about the philosopher who never wrote down his ideas. If you start searching there, you’ll end up at the right place.
But what — the point I wanted to make was, so if you don’t understand where you came from, and why did you do what you do, and you don’t understand where you’re going? You project meaning, so that’s why religion is introduced. But even the religion that the Mystery Function talks about, you could argue two origin stories. You could argue the Deca group completely orchestrated this, and wanted this philosophy to be there. That’s why they always intended for the Mystery Function to be the priest. And they want them to worship their corporate logo, because they’re a freaky dark corporation from the future.
But you could also argue that they only put in the Mystery Function, to have an unknown and to have a mystery. And what the Mystery Function does is project meaning unto himself. And there’s corporate logos everywhere. Everywhere in his world, there’s this logo, there’s this shape, so he just assumes it’s important and starts projecting meaning onto himself. Right? So it doesn’t have to be — and I, of course, know for myself the answer to which one I would prefer, but maybe there shouldn’t be one. Because the whole concept is that we’re unreliable narrators. So where does this narrative come from? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we should just recognize it as unreliable and take what’s good. Right. So yeah.
ELENA: So I know how complicated building mystery plots is. I cannot express to you how many times my mother found post-it notes lost to the ether after I left home, with “the chef knife is under the sink, but it isn’t the real murder weapon”. Or like, “the woman in black in the doorway is . . .” what was the ending of this one? I remember this one, “the woman in black in the doorway is actually the daughter of the butler”.
ELENA: Yes, that’s right. I — so she would send me emails, just like “I found another one,” when I was in college. Like I’m sorry.
So I’d love to hear about your process for building The Deca Tapes mystery, right? Did it come easy? Was it like pulling hen’s teeth? What did you do to build this mystery that we have here?
LEX: It was — it was extremely difficult. First of all, because I had to — so I wrote manuscripts. And I had to relearn, or retrain myself to write a script for audio, which is, as you know, so completely different. So that was — that took, that took a long time. And also, I just wrote to do that, right, I just, I just wrote-wrote-wrote. I knew — I knew a lot would be unusable. But in the end, all that writing did help me build the world. But none of that made it made it into the actual show. But that’s more to craft part. Like we talked about when we talked about sound versus narration.
But for this story, maybe now that it unfolds in the final episodes, it feels like it just — that’s just how the story should go. I feel. And that took so much work because it was really hard to have two mysteries work together to come to the conclusion. So, the Entertainer dies. And he has to die because the Cook has to transition to his role, both to both to break the order and to have it be a different slow ship thematically, but also to be able to have a positive impact. We were talking about intergenerational impact on the children that would end up at the mining colony, where we — in a way that brings hope, right, I didn’t want it to be just dark, I wanted to bring it to be a glimmer of hope. So I had to have the the murder mystery of the Entertainer have a satisfying clue because he dies. And that kind of drives the story who killed him, but also in a way that would give the Cook enough space to go do her big move at the end. So those two had to really work together. And it took me a really long time to come up with the concept of the Entertaining — the Entertainer doing his job too well, and killing himself to the ultimate — to create the ultimate unsolvable mystery that would, well, in a way, entertain the group, like forever, right?
ELENA: Are you not entertained? [laugh]
LEX: [laugh] So when I saw — I had so many scenarios where — there were bizarre ways or scenarios where it was one of the members of the group, but if it was one of the members of the group, I had to — there had to be some consequences for this person, which would change the group dynamic, which would change the whole clue of the Cook just stepping in and taking over one part, right? So it made — it would have been a 12 episode show. It would stretch the ending totally. So it was so hard to — I knew there had to be a way, and then, well once you have it, it’s so simple. But if he does it himself, I have none of those problems and the two clues perfectly tie into each other.
Yeah, I remember the — I remember that instant that I had that idea. And then the second instant when I realized that solved the entire mystery and it gave me room to do two plot twists at the end. I was so happy, but it took — it took a lot a lot of crunching. Yes.
ELENA: Yeah, that sounds like it.
LEX: But it was fun. I mean, I love that process of kind of unraveling your own mystery. You know that — you know there’s a solution. But yeah, the digging is fun too.
ELENA: What is it? Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s fascinating. I always loved it when a plot would come together. And I finally figured out the, Oh, this is the way that I make this a mystery that’s readable and mysterious and not immediately solvable. But when I reveal the answer to you, you can find — you can see the clues that lead there I love.
LEX: I love how, when you solve it, it immediately gives you more ways to completely confuse the reader or listener in early, so when the whole children thing — in my first version, I didn’t pay that much attention to the very basic biology of people having to procreate together. But then I realized this clue gives me so much ways to make — to make the ship way weirder, right? So with them getting rewards for having sex and stuff like that.
In that way, the clue kind of gives you all these ways to make the mystery even more mysterious and more weird and awkward and disorienting, right? Them sleeping together in double beds in different shifts and stuff like that. That’s all really weird. What kind of place is this? Right? So I love how — I love that feeling of a plot coming together. And then and then you reverse engineer all these random, weird clues that hopefully no one will be able to put together too soon.
ELENA: Yeah, I gotta say, the first time I listened to this, I remember stopping at “sex badge”. And I was just kind of like, you know, that seems not normal.
LEX: Maybe I should, maybe I should add those to my merch store.
ELENA: So The Deca Tapes, like you presented, right? It presents slowly but thoroughly this conception of a dystopian capitalist future in space. There has been a lot of speculation and more recently, actual activity around the industrialization and militarization of space. Because why not spread imperialism to the actual literal stars? What are the — what are the ideas and the fears and the concepts that you have about our future capitalist overlords that went into building the Deca group and this distant far future universe?
LEX: I think — I think humans exist on a very broad spectrum of ranging from very evil to very good, and everything in between. So, as a collective, you hope that that average — that the average is positive, right? And the only — but the only way to make sure that, on the whole, it becomes more and more positive is to reflect on the extreme cases on the spectrum. So I personally don’t believe that if the — if civilization slowly evolves, like it does now — that there will be ever something as extreme as the Deca group.
But I do think it’s really important to put an extreme example like that out there, because, I mean, I’m going really far in efficiency, for example, because the only reason there are slow ships in the Deca group is because it’s cheaper, right. So all the personnel that actually works at those mining facilities, they get on a ship, and a few months later, they’re there so technologically, they’re able to get a human to the place, but because it’s cheaper to use old models, they think of this whole scheme of them having children on the on the ship. I mean, that’s really, really evil, right? That’s only thinking in bottom lines, even for dystopian standards. That’s a cold bottom line.
But it’s not — so personally, I am not afraid that we’re on the brink of creating a Deca group that will privatize the market to a point where the entire world is just a big bottom line. But I do think that, just like a group of humans exist on the scale from evil to good, companies exist on that scale too, right? And the people working on those companies in those companies also exist on that scale. So we have to — we have to constantly check ourselves to make sure that we’re growing in the right direction.
And what’s also interesting to me is that — I’m like capitalism is — that’s a dirty word, right? It holds a lot of negative weight. But I’m not sure if the solution to fighting corrupt systems is in fighting capitalism itself. I don’t know. I don’t know what the solution is. But I do notice that a lot of the conversation, and a lot of the discourse is focused on the system being capitalist on the whole, and I’m not sure if that’s the answer. And just to give like a — like a tiny look in the future, that theme is what will come back in the other seasons, because like, there are some in this season — there are some references to Earth. So terms like “W D U” and stuff like that get used as if the listener would know what that is.
And that kind of refers to the state of the earth in this era. Yeah, and that’s, yeah, yeah, that’s what I’ll say about that.
And I’ll, maybe I’ll just say that I’m reading a lot about the Cold War. So it’s more about –
ELENA: Ooh, interesting!
LEX: It’s more about the question of whether it’s easy to point at the system as a whole and say, This is wrong. Or maybe it’s not the whole system, but it’s corrupt parts we should fight. I’m getting really abstract here. But if we’re — if we’re talking about the future of capitalism, we kind of kind of have to.
ELENA: Yeah, that’s — kind of have to. Yeah.
LEX: But I think as we, as we get so technologically advanced, and so globalized, and closer and closer to expanding our civilization, all our both good and evil parts will get amplified, as we see in the weird world we live in today. So it’s more and more important to think of extreme cases and reflect on those. As journalists, but definitely as storytellers. So that’s why the Deca group should exist. Yep. I think.
ELENA: Yeah. No, I love that. I was thinking about this . . . yeah, this concept of like, well, the Deca group — you don’t think that like the Deca group is something that we’re headed towards? Particularly? I think it’s an extreme example. One of the things that I was actually thinking about was — is the school to prison pipeline, that exists here in the US and elsewhere as well. But mostly the US, and how prisons, and private prison builders in particular, are thinking about the children, particularly the children of like Black folks, in particular, Black children as things that will continue to be funneled, right into prison.
LEX: As a work force.
ELENA: Yeah. It is. And so it’s a modern slave labor. So the social economic concept that you have dealt with really heavily here is private prisons, the privatization of prison systems. Tell me a little bit about the prison system in the Netherlands, because I know that there’s a much heavier emphasis on rehabilitation there, at least discursively in public media. And of course, the US is the place where we have, what, 666 imprisoned people for every 100,000. And then the Netherlands. Is it fifty? Something?
LEX: I wouldn’t know. Did you pull that up? It’s fifty?
ELENA: Yeah, it’s — I I looked it up before we talked. Yeah. Well, I looked up the Netherlands one. I knew the US one.
LEX: It’s very interesting, because when you talk about both imprisonment and the prison system in a certain country [clears throat] sorry — in a certain country, you’re actually talking about that entire society, right? Because you’re talking about classes, you’re talking about social mobility, the chances of climbing — climbing the ladders, the fair opportunities you get. So there’s two — well, there’s a million, but you could boil it down to two dimensions, I think, especially when you compare our countries and both those prison systems. Because what’s interesting, as a European, when looking at America, is this narrative of the American dream. While I would argue that, being born in the Netherlands, your chances of achieving an American Dream are far, far, far better than when you’re born in America. And, of course, this is a complicated comparison, because the country is so much bigger.
So much, well, all of those factors, but just working my way to prison systems, if your society is — if it’s hard to work yourself out of a certain position, partly because of the freedoms in the market — I’m kind of making big jumps here. But then it’s also way, way easier to get caught — to get caught in a certain situation, if the markets reward you for trying to get maximum value out of whatever your privatized sector is, then those two things put together are like a recipe for disaster. Then there’s a system that thrives if you don’t get out of the rut you’re in. And yeah, that’s, that’s basically like-
ELENA: And you can’t get out of the rut that you’re in, because the system makes it hard for you to do that.
LEX: So you’re caught. However talented, unique, driven, you’re caught. And there’s no way that — you need extreme luck to — you need so many factors to add up, right? To get out of that. So I’m here in the Netherlands, because of it being much more of a welfare state, because it being so much smaller. And it’s very small and very rich, right? So it’s a completely different context. And in that completely different context, there’s a prison system that’s not privatized. Very much regulated, especially in comparison to the US.
And there’s, like you said much of a lot of work towards rehabilitation. But if you look at certain Scandinavian countries, they are — they’re way, way farther in the whole rehabilitation thing than we are. We’re pretty clumsy actually. There’s — and I’m no expert on this, whatsoever. I read whatever the press tells me
ELENA: Oh, yeah, I, I read a couple of — I covered a couple of articles analyzing this — the rehabilitation in the Netherlands before I asked.
LEX: Yeah. So I’m no, I’m no-
ELENA: Yeah, so this lines up with what I read. Yeah.
LEX: But it’s just, it’s just like you get — if you get sent to like, these facilities that are specialized in trying to rehabilitate you, you’re a really extreme case, right? These are like extreme sociopaths and other types in that category. And the chances of this rehabilitation succeeding are very, very small. And there’s been some major incidents with people escaping and doing horrible things, which again, brought up this whole debate of how you should — what you should do with people like this in your society, right? So it’s a healthier system, in that people won’t get caught in it as much. Of course, on a smaller scale, the same problems here, but on the other side of the spectrum, there’s — when it’s this much of a welfare state, you do get a lot of discourse about, Okay, this horrible thing happened because this person could escape this rehabilitation facility. Aren’t we being too empathetic? So it’s a very different discussion and obviously for The Deca Tapes, it’s much more of a reflection on the American issues because, in a way, because of the way the market works, America is more capitalist — well, not only in a way. It is more capitalist because it’s-
ELENA: It is. It is more capitalist. Don’t worry. [laugh]
LEX: We can make my-
ELENA: Eat the Rich!
LEX: -but — and so it’s better — it’s a better grounds to get my point across about the dangers of extreme — of extreme freedom and extreme bottom line driven things. Yeah. So it’s a hard comparison. Yeah, but for the story, the American problem is more interesting.
ELENA: So I have one last question here for us, which is getting back here to the concept of memory. All right, so we talked about — we talked pretty heavily about memory and emotional inheritance and intergenerational trauma. Something I want to get into more right is this link between memory and personality and humanity and our ethical choices. So these prisoners have had their memories erased, they’ve forgotten all conception of who they are or what they’ve done, and they have had their, like, their primary function replaced with something designed for raising a ship and keeping a ship going — a very capitalist bottom line kind of function. But as I think people have heard throughout the show, they continue to demonstrate the personality qualities and traumas that, partially — at least in part, right, led to their past choices, or are involved with their past choices, maybe. So tell me, tell me about what you think of memory? And what role that it plays in our ethical choices? And in the things, the actions that we take throughout life, and how they like inform each other in particular, the way that you discuss it on the show.
LEX: Yeah, so, I’m afraid you’re not going to like this answer. [chuckle] Because I’ve been, I’ve been thinking about that, obviously, because I had to design characters in that context. And the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that I had no idea.
ELENA: Yeah, that’s fair!
LEX: It has to be some balance between those things, but I have no idea what it is. And maybe it differs per individual. I don’t know. So, what I came up with in the end, is that each of the 10 characters represents another blend of those factors. So the Cleaner is the most clean cut example. He’s just a psychopath foot soldier, basically. And that’s just what he is, no matter in what context you put him. And throughout the episodes, each character will rely less and less on their previous lives and be more susceptible to a different moral compass. And better adjusting to the situation they’re in. So I had no idea. But that opened up a possibility to play with that dynamic for the different characters. It’s really hard to not spoil the second season right now. So I’m- [laugh] I’m trying to-
ELENA: Alright, well, now y’all know. Now y’all know, a second season has heavy stuff to do with capitalism and memory. [laugh]
LEX: Yeah, yes, it has nature versus nurture. A lot. Because basically, that’s almost what it comes down to. Right? If you’re . . .
ELENA: It’s this question.
LEX: Is there some main — is there some main drive within you? That’ll find its way through whatever the context is? Or does the context build, build that drive? So I literally made a graph on a whiteboard with those two drives, and I just plotted the characters. And that’s how I built the characters. Because I thought-
ELENA: [delighted laughing] That is-
LEX: [overlapping] -that I thought, I don’t know-
ELENA: –the singular best piece of information about The Deca Tapes that you have given me!
LEX: That’s crazy conceptual-
ELENA: “I made a graph!” [laugh]
LEX: -but it does help. It did help me make them more human. Yeah.
LEX: Yeah. Because maybe it’s true, right, that some people are just more informed during their everyday by their core personality. And some people are more informed by their exterior and everything in between. So the very conceptual, cold graph made them more human. But yeah, I realize it’s a weird way to make characters.
ELENA: No, I love that!
LEX: But it all came — you’re hitting a nail on the head, because it all came from that philosophical question and me not knowing how to answer it. Yeah.
ELENA: Yeah, no, I — the thing is that like, the reason why I love this — is well one of the many reasons why I love this — but it also makes me think of like all of these memes online, where you plot your characters on different graphs that are usually very silly graphs, like the McDonald’s triangle, right? [laugh] That’s what it makes me think of. I kinda — I kind of want you to make it into a meme. I’m not gonna lie.
LEX: I will probably ever — probably get a laugh from four people. But maybe it’ll be worth it.
ELENA: If you liked what you heard, you can support The Deca Tapes at their Patreon, at patreon.com/thedecatapes.
Radio Drama Revival runs on warm sunlight, fresh strawberries, and this green paper stuff capitalism says we need. If you’d like to help keep us afloat and featuring new, diverse, unique fiction podcasts and their creators, you can support us on Patreon, at patreon.com/radiodramarevival.
And now we bring you our Moment of Anne.
ANNE: You know tiny foods? Not like baby carrots and baby oranges but like the Mini Brands tiny food things that you can buy Target and stuff? This isn’t sponsored, I just… really like them. And the goblin brain in me just wants to collect them all and hoard them even though they’re absolutely for children.
ELENA: That means it’s time for the credits.
This episode was recorded in the unceded territory of the Kalapuya people, the Clatskanie Indian Tribe, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and the Atfalati tribe. Colonizers named this place Beaverton, Oregon.
If you are looking for ways to support Native communities, you can donate to Nourish Our Nations Arizona, an organization that provides essential food items to Indigenous families from more than six tribal communities, including White Mountain, Navajo Nation, and Gila River. Their gofundme is https://www.gofundme.com/f/nourish-our-nations-arizona.
Our theme music is Reunion of the Spaceducks by the band KieLoKaz. You can find their music on Free Music Archive.
Our audio producer is Wil Williams.
Our marketing manager and line producer is Anne Baird.
Our researcher is Heather Cohen.
Our submissions editor is Rashika Rao.
Our associate marketing manager is Jillian Schraeger.
Our transcriptionist is Katie Youmans.
Our audio consultant is Eli Hamada McIlveen
Our associate producer is Sean Howard.
Our executive producers are Fred Greenhalgh and David Rheinstrom.
Our mascot is Tickertape, the goat.
I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. This has been Radio Drama Revival: all storytellers welcome.