REMS, the debut solo album by Nima Aghiani (one half of 9T Antiope with Sara Bigdeli Shamloo), still haunts me. It lingers and still I shudder, not because its onslaught of power noise is especially frightening on its own, but because of the emptiness that the noise clears, the clearing of a silent space in its pounding doom. From a glacial silence, it can bear witness to its own violence, as if with a tranquil compassion. Without silencing, it opens up a silence that intensifies its piercing pain, the strain between the silence and the noise filling me with an unsustainable dread. It collapses into an infinity of mirrors, shattered, shards, laced with entwining blood and blotted veins.
I’d like to write about the dread that reaches a convulsion now on Nocebo. I’d like to write about the kind of dread that prompts Blanchot, for instance, to write: Dread: ‘Do nothing, and it is still too much.’ The kind of dread that 9T Antiope conjures in Nocebo, as in the interstices of this whispered dialogue. A dread that sustains without collapsing the tension between a throbbing electronic doom and the mercurial, almost heavenly break in the clouds, where out of clear light, a fragment of violin quivers like a choir from afar. The dread that, like a silent scream, though silent, screams endlessly. The dread that even the scream can’t silence. The dread that even the scream can’t silence dread. The worse than dead and dying dread. The dread that I’d like to write about is the dread that, as soon as I write it, is the dread that writes me and I say nothing. In the panic of the heart’s hysterics, dread morcellates, hammers, pulverizes. It ravishes, slashes, seething, flesh, any pain to silence its silence; yet its calm, its indifference, its tranquility, from which I (it) witness my (its) frenzied horror with remorse is the utmost agony. Far worse than the ache, the gash, the pang is the silence, the swoon, the stillness of eyes with no beyond to their depth. The pain that severs the pity from the flesh, the silence from the doom, is dread, the dread of all dread, the dread no dying can free, no sleep can soothe.
On Isthmus, the first of the triptych that Nocebo will endure, 9T Antiope conjured the arpeggiations of tintinnabulant strings as from Arvo Pärt’s most mournful requiems; here, reduced, they reach a tinnitus-laden pitch. Devoid of timbre, silence becomes a scream, which is deafening, laden with desolation. Glisteningly piercing, they hover and rend apart the shroud of pain’s noise, opening to no redemption, an unknown without escape. Here is from where the words come. Not sung in the clear enunciation of Syzygys’s haunted pop songs, but spoken, almost sardonic, the force of their saying as powerful as the noise under which they dissolve.
Where does this light end?
Where will the dark begin?
It drips into nothing
But somehow it makes a quiet sound
As it actually does hit something in the water
I know it hits nothing
That’s the sound nothing makes
Tastes like nothing
Smells like nothing
I know nothing very well
Was nothing ever so terrifying? Especially so, because of this knowing nothing, this very well. Dread above all conceals, conceals itself, is dread of all, and all is dread for the one who dreads, concealed. At the extreme of dissociation, there is this split, this gash. Like Michelangelo’s Pietà, the pitiful misericors watches over its profound resignation, the pity over the flesh, the silence over the noise. The sorrow of not being able to intervene, hovering above all.
In an interview with Fluid Radio, Sara speaks about comatose states and the condition known as “Uppgivenhetssyndrom,” pausing to say that working through Nocebo gave her access to the feelings taken away or buried deep from her own experience of family members in comatose states, to reflect on the lack of reflection hidden in resignation, as an onlooker and also as one who is looked upon, dread of seeing dread.
In 2015, doctors gave the name “Uppgivenhetssyndrom” (resignation syndrome) to refugee children in Sweden who would lapse into a deep state of apathetic dissociation, showing no resistance, no reaction. As Rachel Aviv writes in The New Yorker, “By 2005, more than four hundred children, most between the ages of eight and fifteen, had fallen into the condition. In the medical journal Acta Pædiatrica, Bodegård described the typical patient as ‘totally passive, immobile, lacks tonus, withdrawn, mute, unable to eat and drink, incontinent and not reacting to physical stimuli or pain.’”
Restrictions on asylum-seeking create a sense of helplessness that is embodied to the point of disembodiment. Far from being apathetic, however, the illness can be seen as an act of resistance that speaks out silently to racist migrant laws, speaking, “this is unspeakable.” Falling away from the world, the children bear witness to the world that cast them away. This sense of bearing witness by the one who is unable to bear witness is the profound horror of dread that Nocebo (dis)embodies. The pity above the pain, their tension sustained without collapse, without release.
And like the fragment of violin that quivers with the fragility of a single ray of light, there’s a sense of trembling, or hope itself awakening, a pupil reacting to the light. Listening closer, there’s a heartbeat, an ornamented piano line, as from one of Anouar Brahem’s dust-drenched harmonies. Elsewhere, a call to prayer briefly rises from the noise, then recedes. And as if to point toward the hope for a coming Placebo (which will complete the trilogy, if it were possible), there’s the heavenly coda, a choral mourning that for an instant denies the distance of its pity and touches the body with the call of a “come forth,” calling out a bit of hope, a bit of light.
So we can borrow, for instance, the wisdom of Mahmoud Darwish:
Anemones emerge from the desolation, their tiny red corollas growing out of gray and black stones. A bit of mist and light suffice for life to overpower nothingness. A bit of hope and time suffice for you to cross the mountain trails of myth; you were spared the fate of your ancestors. So borrow the wisdom of the anemones and say: Nothingness does not concern me, even if death besieges me.