Devour, the fourth album by Margaret Chardiet as Pharmakon, uses self-cannibalisation as allegory for the self-destructive nature of humankind, “an instinctive inward response to a world of increasing outward violence, greed, and oppression.” This work continues the New Yorker’s reflections on tensions and connectivity between body and mind, entangled on levels from cellular to societal. As before, she utilises visceral corporeal methods in noise to interrogate these ruptures and connections, but here within the frame of two sustained live studio performances.
Loops have always been central to Chardiet’s work, but nowhere else so overtly machine-like in their industrial quality as here. There is an intense dynamic, textural and rhythmic continuity throughout; it’s an insistently dense album of whirring, pulsing and rotating where slow shifts grind against searing interjections. In this, notions of space are not lost but the horizontal structure and dynamic of previous work is pitched on its end – the voice often clearly framed by relentless, buzzing bass motifs and drilling high feedback .
The vocals retain the gloriously liberated palette of techniques that have developed across the project, and processing choices strike a balance between mediation, obfuscation and unsettling intimacy, perhaps most boldly of all her albums. In performance execution (especially in the awesome punishing finale ‘Pristine Panic_Cheek and Jowl’) Chardiet’s spoken-sung-screamed-squeezed-spat vocal tone and melodic contours seek out a similarly uncompromising, complicated language of in-between-ess, paired with lyrics that teeter on the edge of audibility.
Whilst it’s easy to lose oneself in the transcendent power electronics, the moments of transition are amongst my favourite parts of the album, often with a truthful clumsy physicality that exposes the fragility and urgency at the heart of this work, like the whispered mumbling and gulped breaths between ‘Homeostatis’ and ‘Spit it out’, and the swirling layered vocal climax of ‘Self Regulating System’ that cuts off abruptly to silence.
It’s all too easy to think of work like this as simply a catharsis or release, for the artist or listener, but it’s clear 10+ years into this project that Chardiet’s work is a bodily thinking in action, her “balancing feedback” here a cyclical devouring of self, society and sound. Not only does this record capture the force and rhythmic energy of a Pharmakon performance, it’s a stunning evocation and confrontation of a somatic experience of the times we live in.