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Thursday, July 31, 2014 
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Annex
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The current state of the world is metaphorically dark. Corporations knowingly pollute and produce inefficient, unnecessary products; governments support these businesses to maintain power, thus becoming corrupt and purposeless. Healthy traditions and lifestyles are corrupted by lust, or by greed for money and power. Perhaps most importantly, industrial society renders men as machines, allowing them to lose sight of their humanity. Ultimately, this dehumanization becomes the root of all the aforementioned problems. As Erich Fromm states in his book "On Being Human":

"Man, totally concerned with the production, sale, and consumption of things, becomes more and more like a 'thing' himself. He becomes a total consumer engaged in the passive taking in of everything, from cigarettes and liquor, to television, movies, and even lectures and books. He feels lonely and anxious, because he does not see a real meaning to his life beyond that of making a living. He is bored and overcomes his boredom by more and ever-changing consumption and the thrills of meaningless excitement. His thinking is split from emotions, truth from passion, and his mind from his heart. Ideas do not appeal to him because he thinks in terms of calculations and probabilities rather than in terms of convictions and commitments."

Fromm's words describe a problematic yet true reality in which people and the surrounding world are seemingly stripped of all their importance and redeeming qualities. They are subsequently turned into "necrophiles," taking pleasure in the pursuit of mechanical devices rather than living things. Despite this cultural desolation and daily manifestations of a self-destructive society, Fromm still managed to find hope in the future. According to him, there are still those "...unwilling to surrender their sense of individuality, their values, their hope, their quest for meaningful life, and they insist on a life that responds to their human needs and aspirations." These people find a purposeful existence in the choice to engage in social and political activism, productive work addressing traditional human needs, and love — defined as the spontaneous affirmation of another's existence.

With their past two albums, the French duo Micro:mega (Sylvain Chauveau and Frédéric Luneau) seem to have incorporated Fromm's solution to the problems of modern society in their music. They manage to find in music a form of work that transcends time and appeals to human needs and emotions. Nearly all their compositions maintain an ambiance of anxiety and sadness as they thematically express their discontent to the world at large via audio-activism. In this context, 1999's Photosphere resembles a Joycean journey through the minds of the album's creators, a nearly audio-cinematic representation of the events, thoughts, and perceptions of two men concerned with the problems occurring on our planet as it orbits the sun. 2000's Human served as a criticism of how the modern world is largely anti-human, not humanistic in its structure; this interpretation is furthered by the album artwork, which juxtaposes a picture of a small house in the country with that of a monolithic factory. The titles of the songs, all named after human body parts, reinforce the theme. Together, since both records focus on a compelling argument — that modern social problems are brought about by industrialization's devaluation of life — and manage to use primarily electronic instruments while still conveying human emotions and images, they can be seen as Frommian works attempting to educate and to cause change throughout the world.

If Micro:mega's first two albums were forms of protest or activism against what the duo saw as an increasingly destructive, non-natural and inhuman world, Annex finds Chauveau and Luneau disheartened that their attempts at criticism have been largely ineffective at rendering any change in culture or society. Indeed, their message, even amongst their listeners, seems to have been lost as everyday comfort overrides the desire to become educated to the problems and work actively for a solution. Here Micro:mega seem somewhat resolved to live in the world they had previously criticized. The music tends to be vigorously despondent; at times it even becomes mournfully apathetic. In their musical shift toward inactivity, Chauveau and Luneau may be symbolically suggesting that since they do not enjoy contemporary society, and their previous actions have yielded little success in changing it, they have become resigned to occupying a world in which they would rather not exist.

The central elements of this theory arise in most of the album's tracks, all of which demonstrate a general anomie, possibly at the realization that very few other people seem to care about the ideals the artists hold dear. Abundant feelings of alienation and purposelessness ultimately drive a growing dissatisfaction with the world and the apparent sense that there's no solution on the horizon. This is the problem, perhaps something like existential anxiety, that Annex, as an album, conveys in its emotional entirety.

Gently introducing the record, "Annex 1" begins with samples of the sea and a gorgeous, deeply melancholic digital melody that's further enhanced by the use of triangle and slow accordion. The beauty is set alongside an almost military-style use of live drums and of digital sounds best described as "laser-scans." Through its elegant use of sound construction, "Annex 1" evokes a walk late in the evening alongside a sand dune close to the sea. In the course of the aimless walk, thoughts of past experiences slowly drift to the forefront of the mind, and the listener begins to question what gives them purpose, and why. The answers to such questions rarely, sometimes never, come easily, a fact Micro:mega present clearly through their music; they have no answers with which to solve the problem.

"Annex 3" opens with a gentle breeze of high-pitched tones and wind samples, eventually flowing into a melody composed of traditional church-organ notes. Buzzes and chirps become a repeating motif amid a midtempo of muted hi-hat drum sounds and gentle plucking of acoustic guitar. At times, the remote possibility of a light, hidden flute appears within the mix. Listening to the song, one conjures murky dreams of standing on a metal balcony, mildly enjoying the appearance and smells of the outside city environment after a rain. Buzzes and chirps sputter loudly from overhead electric wires that have become wet during the shower, while personal feelings remain inert and sodden as the recently drenched sections of otherwise dry grass.

Slowly beginning after its predecessor ends, "Annex 4" uses two long, drawn-out keyboard tones (their pitch slightly resembling cathedral pipe organs) overlapping with a slow, simple, and ponderous drumbeat. These elements are bathed in light sonic grime, like a quiet rain of physical dust. The song successfully evokes defeatist, disconsolate emotions of failure, amid visions of an individual sitting in a cramped apartment, writing about the problematic situations of the world with a single, dirty, yellow-brown electric bulb as the only source of light. As the piece progresses, sampled guitar and mournful, semi-religious chanting are drizzled into the mix. Personal and ideological resignation has never sounded so clear or hopeless.

Signaling a potential shift in emotions, "Annex 5" contrasts with the album's forlorn mood to this point, beginning with a slightly uptempo use of traditional drum sounds that suggest a renewed sense of hope through activity. However, just a few moments into the song, Micro:mega introduce the electronically manipulated sounds of buzzing flies — instead of returning to a more healthy mentality, the song regresses to decay. The track builds slowly, adding elements such as time-contracted acoustic guitar chords into a thick, molten mess of organic and digitally generated sounds. There's a sense that Chauveau and Luneau have reached a critical point from which they can either continue their current path towards intellectual resignation and spiritual degeneration or resume the effort to reintegrate humanity into life and culture through musical composition.

By the album's end, Micro:mega have recovered their Frommian activist ideals with the drum-'n'-bass inspired "Annex 6." Energetically visceral synthesizer melodies combine with a dual rhythm of deep bass thumps in a symbolic portrayal of Micro:mega coming back to life in a sense, returning to Photosphere's musical and image-driven protest and the moving, emotional themes of Human.

While the music of Annex is every bit as sunk in a very real, nearly physical languor as Micro:mega's previous two albums, it is for different reasons. Annex finds the initial excitement and inspiration of trying to improve the world and people wearing a bit thin, since the status quo seems to change very little in these "modern" days. Thus Annex should be viewed as the third statement in a series of audio presentations, since it's more meaningful viewed this way than through any sort of formal, academic study of its compositional features.

Micro:mega show that it's possible to remain concerned, active, and potentially hopeful in an otherwise dreary and destructive existence. Annex is spiritually fulfilling, tying itself directly to the emotions and imagination; thus it continues in the tradition of Micro:mega's previous two albums, offering a Frommian answer to the devaluation of life through industrialization. Annex is a journey into and out of personal apathy, experiencing indifference to its fullest, then pulling back — choosing, in a sense, to reengage with life.


by Robert Stanton




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