Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Like a cast shadow: Remind Me (Royksopp) and Agenda Suicide (The Faint)

Remember, not too long ago, I mentioned this term by Eco, “riding the same cultural wave?” It’s a concept I’ve appropriated and adapted more or less beyond recognition, but it continues to serve me well, because I’m always finding strange correlations between apparently unrelated art and entertainment design. Tonight, it’s music videos.

The videos: Agenda Suicide by The Faint and Remind Me byRoyksopp. Part of the point of the post: to draw attention to these two brilliant, beautiful music videos, so everyone can pause and appreciate the wonderful things you can do with an idea these days.

The similarities are rather obvious, but I’ll be happy to mention them real quick. One: an emphasis on lines and structure, and inspiration taken from geometric design… in Royksopp, it’s mostly schematic and instructional designs. There’s a schematic feeling to Agenda Suicide, too, but it’s mediated by the influence of Russian constructivism. Both focus on a single figure, simplified to an iconic rendering, moving through the weird personal environment that the video establishes.

The environment: that’s important. There’s an emphasis on everyday life, scenery, and especially transportation (“liminal space,” as my anthro professor called it). That has an important effect in these two videos: it sets up an enclosed life-world, networked by the subway and the elevators. This creates a sense of movement and circulation, but also of being embedded, even to the point of isolation (especially in The Faint). The stylizations contribute to this affect, too.

When I think back on my dreams, I notice that they never feel like a continuous environment to me. My dream-space is almost like a stage, or a movie set, artificially extended but essentially tiny and set aside from anything like a real world. Both of these videos make me feel that way, as well.

So they’re a lot alike… in stylization, in rhythm, in theme, in content, and in effect. But they end up with such different effects, it’s almost mind-boggling. Remind Me feels like a weird, sublime kind of inner fantasy, where the structure and the geometry of the world creates sort of a rupture. I think sublime is the right word: it’s so fast and over-stimulating that it overwhelms the stupid, brute physical emotions and creates a gap where the mind can just exist and appreciate everything.

In contrast, Agenda Suicide does an almost uncanny job of simulating a nightmare. Again, it’s because of the enclosed space and the uncontrollable dynamic (acoustic) movement of all the structural elements. In this case, though, it doesn’t have the continuous, rhythmic lull of Remind Me. Rather, it has a slow, ominous crescendo as the weird breaks and transgressions begin to multiply. First, it’s the obsessive repetition and textures. Then, at two minutes (exactly half-way through the song), an office-worker steps into the path of a train, and from there the visuals descend into chaos and fracture.

This moment is kind of important to the whole thing, actually… it’s conceivable that this is how nightmares actually work. At some point during a dream, something sets off the dreamer’s anxiety, and then the fear snowballs into the terror and confusion that drives the experience until we wake back up. That office worker jumping onto the tracks is treated as almost beneath notice, but it’s the first hint that the whole ominous fantasy is going to break open.You could see these videos as representing complimentary reactions to the post-industrial, post-social, post-human world. In both cases, there’s a sense of alienation, not only in the Marxist sense (neither of these videos give much positive press to the working world), but also in a way far beyond the Marxist “alienated from your labor” concept. In both cases, the world is so fast and interconnected that the individuals become alienated from their own ideas, bodies, and perceptions.

This loss of immediacy sends the videos to two different places: for the Faint, it’s self-destruction. For Royksopp, it’s transcendence.


Remind Me: disconnection from personal experience, so you can reflect on pure experience, a la The Phenomenologists? The final restitution of the self with the universal, impersonal universe, a la nirvana (the state of mind, not the band)?

Agenda Suicide: A Western critique of Western culture… thus fatalist, a la Baudrillard (RIP)? Structure, mechanization, and alienation as tools of the hegemony, as a full mind/body realization of ideology (thus the propaganda imagery)? Self-destruction as the final goal of human institutions?

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