By Filippo Greggi.
A throat singing getting more and more artificial through the passing of time. This is what a man listened to, completely in the dark. But slowly something starts to move and light up, taking a still indistinct shape, while scary voices beyond recognition take the place of the previous lament, murmuring obscure statements about the end of mankind. The panic-stricken man shouts: “What the hell are you talking about?!”. Few seconds and black mutant animals appear, like if they had been submerged into the oil. One of them, a composed crocodile-monkey-swan, taken in disconnected movements, starts to whisper:
Imagine the sea full of garbage, while you travel over the surface of the water, feeling with your fingers the skin, hair and feathers, of the death. Your hands are stagnant in the trash, stuck in oil like a desperate bird. Listen how, listen how the animals are dying, until you drown surrounded by a full amount of the extinguished species. Your skin is just boiling, falling down apart your bones. And just in the moment you think this is all, a gigantic piece of an iceberg comes off and falls down over us. The disorders of the weather, the floods and all our beautiful terms… Global warrrming! Climate change! Noosphere!
This was simply a brief description of the frightening beginning of Julian Bonequi’s The Death of the Anthropocene. Commissioned and produced last year for CTM – a festival held in Berlin every year, dedicated to contemporary experimental and electronic music – this piece wants to give a portrait of a not so far dystopian future situated after the end of the current geological era, the Anthropocene. Bonequi is a hybrid artist specialized in transmedia narratives, 3D production and electroacoustic music composition and he took inspiration for this work from Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds: a well-known radio drama narrating an alien invasion which was broadcast in 1938 causing the panic among a lot of Americans, until they realized it was just a fiction. Eighty years later Bonequi, thus, created a musical and visual composition in which unaware humans make one-to-one encounter with mutants, absurd animals and aliens, getting completely shocked by the near future they are going (not) to live but that they shaped at the same time.
Besides the complexity of the composition and the high quality of the piece itself, both for the music – which combines tribal and obsessive drums with warped and burning synths – and the visuals – alternating 3D shapes and creatures in vivid, psychedelic colors with full-black moments - the narration touches relevant points about the way mankind coped and still copes with environmental problems. First of all, the white man anthropocentric paradigm with his “burden” of being dominant towards all the minority groups in terms of power (women, strangers etc.) in order to educate them and normalize their behaviour and culture. A barbarity hidden under the false name of civilisation. Secondly his God alike gesture of rising above nature to control and exploit it. This is ironically emphasised not only by the opposite fates and awareness between human and non-human, that see weak human beings subjugated by these new creatures, but also by the language they use: a perfect English by the former and an English with a strong African or South-American accent by the latter. Such that, in this apocalyptic situation, the sole question that one of the humans ask to a mutant animal is “Why do you have this weird Mexican accent?” – which makes you think that extinction could be the best solution.
An even more prevalent theme that emerges from Bonequi’s composition is the approach we have regarding the possible end of the world for how we know it. I would call this approach providential: whatever happens, in the end, everything will be solved. It is summed up by a human asking: “What about the good people doing cool things to save the world?”. An individualisation of the providential vision, widespread for instance in Hollywood movies, that justify human indifference and perseverance in destroying nature. In few words, there will always be a hero who is going to save us. Bonequi, going further, perfectly catch the content of our collective imagery when he makes one of his strange creatures say: “Nobody has the balls to save humanity? Not you, not me, not Europe? Not to give the first step, not to sacrifice our war, your war too? And to invest all the resources to save the world?”. I think no one is exempt from being affected by these as easy as compelling provocations.
Going backwards to the same years in which Welles transmitted his radio drama, we can pick up, to deepen this kind of attitude in relation to crises, Walter Benjamin’s theses contained in his On the Concept of History, a short essay written in the late 30s. The context was different, and the imminent catastrophe concerned the seizure of power by the Nazis. Nevertheless, he intuited that the blind faith in progress of the Germanic social-democracy was opening the way for them. At a broader level, in this text, he was criticising historicism, but in particular in the VIII thesis he deals with the positivistic and providential outlook entailed in its historical method, which was also assumed by the social-democratic party. The latter was chained in this vicious circle of making compromise considering that in any case the situation would have got better, that certain things would have never happened - even when it was clear that an immediate reaction was already necessary - completely forgetting the lesson given by the defeats of the oppressed. An irrational behaviour which relied on abstract beliefs for not struggling against the reality. As Benjamin said:
The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the "state of emergency" in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that accords with this insight. Then we will clearly see that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against fascism. One reason fascism has a chance is that, in the name of progress, its opponents treat it as a historical norm. - The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are "still" possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical.
Right now, the huge problem we are going through with the same eyeless conduct is not Nazism anymore (not only to be more precise) but the one regarding our disruptive activity of environmental modification, which characterized Anthropocene. Benjamin’s words, despite the partially new circumstances, still resonate in all their foresight and, thanks to the acceptance of an endless and unstoppable progress, technology has become the blindfold of our times.
In this regard another meaningful narration is the one made by Amnesia Scanner in their latest album, Another Life, just released this month via the Berlin based label PAN. The music composed by the two Finnish musicians and designers aims to describe current life, characterized by an overwhelming presence of technology. Their songs are filled with artificial and digital sounds, often turning out to be weird and claustrophobic compositions mixing different electronic styles and genres, where accelerations and deep basses find a common ground with ambient interludes and plastic sounds. Furthermore, for this album they create an artificial “singer”, called Oracle, that with its alien and childlike voice reminds you that robots and artificial intelligence are not the future anymore, but yet the present. Combined with the other featuring of Pan Daijing (Chinese musician and performer), the end result is the perfect soundtrack of our ambiguous times when the concept of human is increasingly getting fragile.
Amnesia Scanner - Another Life: https://soundcloud.com/pan_hq/sets/amnesia-scanner-another-life-pan-96
Their picture of human endeavor takes the worst aspects considered so far. Fearful impotence causing anguish and boundless trust in the perspectives disclosed by technology are the two paradoxical people’s responses to ongoing crises - be they economical, humanitarian or ecological. Amnesia Scanner call this double-edged sensation “dark euphoria” when addressed about the content of Another Life. Though their main purpose was not political, much as “a reflection of the time we are living in”, representing contemporary world brings to touch this controversial point, like it or not. Borrowing their words:
The contemporary experience is schizophrenic and contradictory [...] This anxiety or abstract horror that comes about from the political times and climate change we’re living through — every day there’s a crisis. But at the same time, there is this narrative being fed to us through Silicon Valley, that we would be delivered through incredible technologies around the corner that will somehow lift us up from misery. This kind of dark euphoria is a new emotion that is really present here.
All things considered, we can leave some questions to emerge, gathering the tendency lines traced among these thoughts. Why do we always need to be pushed at the edge of our capacity, when chances to succeed are minimal? Why, while we claim that we live in the most advanced period of history in terms of scientific knowledge and discoveries, do we find so hard to look directly at the reality? Isn’t it possible to start to assume the emergency state as Benjamin suggests? Bonequi’s composition and Amnesia Scanner’s music try, given these premises, to describe our present and possible future, showing that art, although through different mediums, can have a substantial function in depicting and calling for our imagery. Moreover, they all agree on the same point: that the moment in which shouting “What the hell is happening here?!” has already arrived and it requires a continuation outside the false alternative between anxiety and empty hope.
Amnesia Scanner. Another Life, Berlin: PAN, 2018.
Benjamin, Walter. On the Concept of History, Selected Writings Volume 4 1938-1940, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.
Bonequi, Julian. The Death of the Anthropocene, Berlin: Audition Records, 2017, https://vimeo.com/208523198
The Fader. “Finally meeting Amnesia Scanner”, published 7 september, 2018, https://www.thefader.com/2018/09/07/amensia-scanner-interview