Pharmakon is an ancient Greek word that’s hard to translate; just like the English word “drug,” it can mean a cure, or a poison. The New York noise artist Margaret Chardiet has been working under that moniker for a decade now, and the word encapsulates her music’s concern with the medical regime of the body.
Pharmakon has been thinking through our fraught relationship with our bodies since 2014’s Bestial Burden, written after a life-threatening condition put her through the trauma of the medical gaze. The experience caused her to explore the separation of mind and body: Her voice screams and shreds apart among factory floor cacophony like the ghost in the machine. Her music (not to mention her distinctive album covers) is obsessed with revulsion of the body, but also liberation from the body: a little bit of poison, a little bit of medicine.
Pharmakon wants to take her exploration of the body out to ultimate taboo-cannibalism-in her newly announced album Devour. In a grim statement accompanying the announcement, Pharmakon explains the impulse behind Devour:
[It] uses self-cannibalization as allegory for the self-destructive nature of humans; on cellular, individual, societal and species-wide scales. In our cells, our minds, our politics and our species, humans are self-destructing. But this behavior does not happen in a vacuum. It is an instinctive inward response to a world of increasing outward violence, greed and oppression.
This album is dedicated to all who were lost to their own demise, all who have been institutionalized; whether in prison, psychiatric facilities, or drug rehabilitation. It is for all those ostracized by and isolated from a totality which chews them up alive in a self-cannibalizing caste system. Here, where martyrs, slaves and pharmakos are not eradicated, but simply called by another name. ‘ABOUT THE SHALLOWNESS OF SANITY’ ... To be well adjusted in this system is to be oblivious and unfeeling. This is for the rest of us, who understand that chaos, madness, pain and even self-destruction are natural and inevitable responses to an unjust and disgusting world of our own making.
Pharmakon has also shared the first single of the album: the six-and-a-half minute long noise odyssey “Self-Regulating System.” It begins with a snare loop that sounds like a chugging train passing through an expanse of hissing static and buzzing saws. Chardiet growls and groans somewhere in the distance, slowly getting closer and closer to our ears, until the entire soundscape collapses into a paralyzing wall of noise.
Devour is a concept album: Each of its five tracks corresponds to a stage of grief associated with the self-destruction of the human race. “Self-Regulating System” is the midpoint of the album; appropriately, it is a moment of transition into our inexorable descent into chaos and destruction.
Listen to “Self-Regulating System” below, see a teaser for the album further down, and check out Devour’s disturbing cover art and tracklist at the bottom. Devour is out Aug. 30 on Sacred Bones Records.
Devour Album Art:
02. Spit It Out
03. Self-Regulating System
05. Pristine Panic / Cheek By Jowl