Contact is the rare noise album that strives for connection rather than just confrontation.
To date, Margaret Chardiet's Pharmakon project has been largely about confrontation. She takes themes related to her own life and the world around her, funnels them into electronic noise, frightening samples, and gutteral screams, and dares you to turn off the stereo. Memorably, her previous release "Bestial Burden" dealt with the fallout of a sudden surgery that resulted from the presence of a large cyst in her body; the album in turn focused on the fragility and failings of the human body, at one point sampling a harsh, nasty cough to extremely uncomfortable effect.
Contact is the latest of Chardiet's missives, and at the surface it is familiar. Opener "Nakedness of Need", for instance, sounds like the warning sound you might hear in a tremendous factory once its largest and most dangerous machine has been turned on, augmented by the primal screams of someone who's been trapped in that machine before. It's a familiar sound if you've listened to Pharmakon before.
Even so, Chardiet writes of Contact: "If we accept that the only true claim sentience gives us is our tiny sliver of time, it opens us to revel in it, to make CONTACT... when the veil is for a brief but glorious moment lifted, and we are free. Empathy! EMPATHY, NOW!"
Hearing Contact for the first time, it's hard to find "empathy" as one of its defining ideas.
Look a little closer to what Chardiet says, however, and we see: "Man is a rabid dog, straining at its leash of mortality with bared teeth." We fight for ourselves above all else, because fear of death is what drives our most basic instincts. It would seem that this is an album that documents the struggle for a greater purpose, the ability to connect, to commiserate and, yes, empathize with those in different circumstances who are engaged in the same struggle. It's a difficult fight to engage in, and much less win, and the harshness of Contact highlights that struggle.
"Transmission" seems of particular import here, as Chardiet's vocal contortions are repetitive and gutteral rather than screeching and primal, suggesting an exorcism or invocation. That this sounds like anything more than pure noise is to Chardiet's credit, as it actively draws the listener in rather than (necessarily) repelling. It's actually a natural extension of the track before it, a short transition called "Sentient", which takes round, hollow noises and stretches them into something organic, frightening, and vaguely rhythmic. "Sentient" is actually the quietest thing on Contact, but it's the perfect introduction/warning shot preceding "Transmission".
The album closes on a similar note; "Somatic", while certainly noisier than "Sentient", is of a similar nature. No screams -- no vocals at all, actually -- disrupt the angry machines, though the machines at this point are on their last legs and struggling to work. Blasting the machines with pure static does nothing to oil them up, either, as the latter half of "Somatic" teaches us. "No Natural Order" finishes Contact, with something that's more foreboding than it is explosive. This, I suppose, would be our basic instinct for survival, struggling itself to survive, yet separated from the self.
There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing the experience of an album like Contact, and again, that is likely by design. Finding empathy isn't easy, but it is rewarding. It's as difficult as anything Chardiet has done thus far, but if you can get past the first five minutes, you'll find it goes by fairly quickly and offers an awful lot of return on investment.
Chardiet has created a rare thing here: a noise album that offers hope, rather than simply confrontation.