“Bestial Burden” – Pharmakon

A friend who’d never heard Pharmakon once asked me to describe her music, and the best I could come up with on the spot was “body horror.” That may not be a recognized musical genre, but I still wouldn’t know what else to call it; it’s aural Cronenberg. Some might try to roll Pharmakon up into the nebulous catch-all “experimental music,” but I’m not sure what the experiment would be in this case – Margaret Chardiet sounds like she knows exactly what she’s doing.

Wikipedia chooses to label Chardiet’s work as something altogether non-musical: “Pharmakon (noise project)”. Like the experimental descriptor, this strikes me as equivocating. “Noise project” implies something disorganized and cold, but Pharmakon’s songs are structured with clear purpose and come from a place of raw emotion. It’s not melodic, and you may not like where it takes you, but it’s music.

That Wiki disambiguation is necessary because “Pharmakon” is also a Derridean philosophical concept, which I won’t pretend to totally understand, but I think it’s something to do with language representing a thing that is two opposing things at the same time, i.e. a drug being poison and remedy. Chardiet’s music is both ugly and purifying, inflicting a projection of trauma onto the listener as a way to heal. 

The original trauma, in the case of the Bestial Burden LP, was a surgery and extended hospitalization during which Chardiet became acutely aware of the gulf between her mind and body. That’s the feeling that permeates this album – the existential horror of finding yourself a stranger trapped in a corporeal saboteur. Chardiet despairs in the title track: “I’m just hanging in the balance / Tethered by only a thin thread / Between a shadow and its source / Between this flesh and its form.”

It is powerful but extremely bleak stuff. This video, though, is surprisingly fun. An attentive audience sits in an intimate outdoor venue on a beautiful day in sunny Arizona, as Chardiet aggressively stalks the crowd, shrieking “I DON’T BELONG HERE” and knocking nearly everyone in the head with her mic cord. It’s terrifying and hilarious. The poison is the remedy.