A dream: a person lies on a bed in a capsule. Machinery attached to the head. Content streaming straight to the brain, hundreds of images and words per second. Spit coming out of the corners of their mouth, neurons firing off constantly in spasms of pleasure. All kinds of emotions lived simultaneously, the mind driven wild by the gratification brought on by the ever-recurring newness, fake but perceived as true. All the while, it (re)produces everything anew, creating a feedback loop that goes on without pause. No place for a consciousness anymore; this is the ideal consumer/producer. The pleasure principle merged with the death drive in perfect union.
How far away is this scenario, really? How long will we carry on before finally giving in to the desire for experiencing more and experiencing it faster? Is becoming an empty shell a high price to pay for forever feeling nothing but pleasure? Amy Ireland brilliantly compared Twitter to the Chinese torture of death by a thousand cuts, our consciousness and attention continually dismembered by the overwhelming stream of information that we can’t cognitively comprehend anymore1. But we find pleasure in that — the ecstasy of masochism. In fact, we are addicted to it, and that addiction is written into the code that binds us. There is no free time anymore — only moments of boredom before the next notification, the next message, the next status update.
The press release accompanying Obsequies’s Organn invites us to interpret the album in terms of “love and duality,” at the same time referencing Les Chants de Maldoror, a poem by Isidore-Lucien Ducasse, with its Nietzschean “last man.” But it’s more interesting if we don’t take that at face value and go outside of what that may mean in terms limited to humans. After all, the relationship between humanity with technology has always been a complicated one. Love, hate, and fear are all constituent to it. And what if the last man, the one who crossed the barriers of morality, is precisely that walking shell, a mere container for unrelenting waves of information? Morals need “authentic” emotion, but there’s no space for that in a consciousness shattered into a thousand fragments, one that has already given itself to the pure pleasure of information streams. In those streams, all possibility for emotional attachment is lost, perhaps as a survival measure in the face of these vast amounts of processed data. How could we live if we were to feel every tragedy and every celebration we scroll by?
This is what Organn feels like. It’s emotional yet detached, cold and uncaring; any signs of warmth never stay for long, always being quickly replaced and defeated. The somber piano of “But Beautiful” doesn’t fight with the bursts of noise that pierce it or with the house-like moments of gentle chords and kick drums. It doesn’t fight, because there is no more struggle; the struggle has become forever ambivalent, a feeling without a place between the interruptions, dissolving into a single mass of sound. This is a common thread for the entirety of the album, but nowhere is it displayed as well as on “Asthme.” Here, the high, ringing notes of a piano melody come together with a melancholic vocal, but the track is full of aggressive intrusions, at times sounding like an unhinged mess of sounds pulled from high-budget action movies. With time, the vocals become more and more unlike what they were, speeding up and down and rapidly changing pitch, trying to catch up to the aggressiveness of the sound effects. Toward its end, the only thing left is a whirling mass of noise with barely-discernible sound elements, which constantly shift and jump from speaker to speaker. All of the individual sounds and the emotions they evoke are blurred together, no longer comprehensible or relating to us, distant. But they feed our gluttony all the same.
Isn’t this what our cognition feels like nowadays, stretched ever thinner between moments of calm and the unrelenting onslaught of data?
1. Amy Ireland, Digital Dismemberment: Twitter, Death by a Thousand Cuts, in: Bezna, issue 5, 2014