At the center of our Milky Way galaxy lies the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A.* At four million times the mass of the Sun it is a truly supermassive compact object.
Sagittarius A*'s name comes from its location near the border of the constellation Sagittarius. The asterisk arose because its co-discover Robert Brown thought the radio source object was "exciting," and excited states of atoms have a * attached.
Over four existential verses, Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler speculates what would happen if he tried to escape his anxiety and depression by going through Sagittarius A*.
And the space where they say
Heaven is has gone away
We'll see one day
What's on the other side
Arcade Fire recorded "End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A*)" for WE, an album divided into two parts. The first half involves themes of anxiety and alienation, while the second half is about joining together and finding hope. This song comes halfway through the project.
"I think the journey of the record, the first half is: Imagine this character's like, 'Get me the F out of here, get me off this planet, get me out of my own skin, get me away from myself. I don't want to be here.' It's anxiety and it's depression and it's heaviness, it's the weight of the world," said Butler to Apple Music. "And he looks at this black hole like, 'Well, maybe if I could get through that black hole, that would be far enough away.' And when he gets there, he finds that it's himself and it's everyone he ever loved and the lives of his ancestors. There's nothing to escape, because it's all the same thing anyway."
This is the last of the four part "End of the Empire" quartet. Arcade Fire had already written and recorded the first three parts during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Butler sensed it needed a fourth. The frontman had an index card that read "Sagittarius A," as a song idea on his wall. Once lockdown eased and he got vaccinated, Butler traveled up to Maine to visit his parents. He bought with him his 4-track, installed it in the basement of their house, and ran some cables up to the top floor. As he worked on "Sagittarius A" there, his mom, Liza Rey, joined him and they played it together. "I felt like I was 15," Butler told Apple Music. "It was exactly like the s--t I was doing when I was 15."
Liza Rey plays jazz harp and sings. She is the daughter of bandleader and jazz steel guitarist Alvino Rey, and Luise King, a member of the big band vocal group, The King Sisters.
Win Butler and his wife/bandmate Régine Chassagne wrote the song and co-produced it with Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich. Besides Arcade Fire, the other musicians are:
Accordion: Andre Michot
Saxophone: Charlie Gabriel
Trumpet: Wendell Brunious and Mark Braud
Cello: Ian Burdge, Helen Gillet and Chris Worsey
Harp: Liza Rey
Viola: Rachel Robson, Owen Pallett and John Metcalfe
Violin: Tom Pigott-Smith, Richard George, Oli Langford, Natalia Bonner, Matt Rhody, Marianne Haynes, Lucy Wilkins, Louisa Fuller, Harry Harding and Everton Nelson
On May 12, 2022, astronomers, using the Event Horizon Telescope, released a photograph of Sagittarius A*, the second released image of a black hole. Win Butler and Régine Chassagne took part in a press conference where the Event Horizon Telescope astronomers presented their findings from the European Southern Observatory headquarters in Germany. The pair performed stripped-back renditions of this song and the WE title track.
"To me, it's almost symbolic," said Butler ahead of the performance. "There's so much we don't know about ourselves and our planet. When I was reading about Sagittarius A*, it just spoke to me as this enormous thing at the center of our galaxy that we don't understand that we're trying to understand better."
"The sense of collaboration it takes to get these images – it transcends international borders and it's in all of humanity's common interest," he continued. "It's important to look up at the stars to get out of our own heads."
Back in 2006 Muse recorded a track titled "Supermassive Black Hole
." In that song, lead singer Matt Bellamy is comparing fame to being sucked into a supermassive black hole.
Win Butler starts of the song by intoning:
This ain't no way of life
"Unsubscribe" is a term Butler uses all the time. "If I'm in a conversation I don't want to be having, I'm just thinking, 'unsubscribe,'" he told UK newspaper The Sun.