Dr Andrew Crome is a lecturer in Modern Christianity at the University of Manchester and an expert in numerology:
Arcade Fire certainly enjoy making their fans work. Their recent viral marketing campaign, utilising graffiti, posters and billboards of new album title ‘Reflektor’ scattered across the globe, culminated in the release of the single of the same name on 9/9 at 9 PM, a date extensively teased by “999” references in the campaign’s artwork. The number 9 is clearly important – not just as a memorable release date, but also as something with more symbolic significance. Anton Corbijn’s striking video for the song features “nine” prominently, hinting at a deeper numerological purpose.
Numerology looks for special relationships (or hidden codes) between particular numbers and events, ideas, and concepts. Certain numbers might have special properties or be especially powerful in magical or religious rituals. Particular dates might suggest good, bad or indifferent hopes for success in business or romance. Alternatively, letters can be transformed into numerical codes to conceal hidden meanings. Some form of numerology has been a common feature of religious and astrological systems from ancient China to modern America. It’s no surprise it still fascinates today.
Which brings us back to the tricky question of Arcade Fire’s obsession with the number 9. Here we run into numerology’s major problem – to understand what is going on, we need some kind of key. Without that, the numbers can mean pretty much anything. As the multiple meanings suggested for what the ‘666’ could mean in the Book of Revelation show, numerology often allows us to find pretty much anything we want in mystical numbers.
In some Hindu traditions and for the Baha’i, 9 might symbolise completeness, whereas in areas of China it can represent power. “Reflektor” has nine letters, and is laid out in a pattern that mimics Haitian veve patterns, a Voudou symbol used in rituals (and in the band’s new logo). Perhaps this is simply a gesture towards the Haitian influence on the record? Yet the album’s cover – Rodin’s sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice – implies a different direction. Rodin initially created the sculpture (of Orpheus attempting to free his lover from the underworld) for his monumental Gates of Hell, illustrating scenes from Dante’s Inferno. As Dante wrote about nine circles of hell, maybe this suggests some kind of link to the epic poem? Meanwhile, some fans have found references to the Hebrew mystical numbers 3 and 7 in material on the band’s website; others discovered coded meanings within the letters themselves. Not to mention that 999 is 666 upside down…
At the end of the day, only the band really knows why they’ve focused on the number 9 – this will no doubt be revealed in due course. But stressing over the “real” meaning of their symbolism misses the point. By creating an intricate mystery to solve, Arcade Fire engage fans in a complex game that keeps us speculating. The mystery doesn’t just create an appetite for the record, but a greater bond between the band and those waiting patiently for ‘Reflektor’, as those who are following the clues are rewarded with webcasts, snippets of lyrics, and the privilege of solving a complex mystery. Far from a cynical marketing ploy, this sort of viral campaign rewards the most committed fans, and allows them to immerse themselves in the band’s work. It’s unsurprising if we each find a different meaning in the clues, as numerology mirrors back our own interests and obsessions from the code we claim to “crack” – it is, perhaps, the ultimate “Reflektor”.