Review: Neon echoes through Rone’s Mirapolis

Rone | Mirapolis | InFiné Music

Release date: 03 November 2017

Review by Jenna Dreisenstock

All that survives of the original Metropolis are incomplete original negatives and copies of shortened and re-edited release prints. Over a quarter of the film has to be considered lost. The present version, which combines all the surviving elements attempts to re-create the film as it was shown at it’s premiere.

Metropolis (1927) Director. Fritz Lang

Young one, backseat warmth and glazed saucer eyes; blurred landscapes spilling through the sunlit overlay of the cars’ windows. Moving forward, embracing a small body in it’s ever speeding arrow forward. The stories we hold of our younger selves present themselves within us as a mirage of the heart. Looking back, we find ourselves in fast, in slow, in fast motion through a vast metropolis. A child sleepily peering through the backseat window; the natural lush morphing to looming buildings and suddenly we find ourselves. Here. The drive 20 minutes or 20 years?

Black film stock indicates shorter sections of missing footage.

In watching and re-watching, rewinding and fast forwarding our recorded past, it’s tempting to start from the end and work our way back to the very beginning; although visual memory can too be illusion. The calling buildings of our metropolis fall into themselves and outward, the machines grinding our bodies to a halt or powering us forward; as each window lights up we can feel the spark inside us – I remember when. The spin of the carousel guided around and around; forward, backward. The Ferris wheel lifted higher and higher – lower and lower. Although the thrill of movement buried itself within us; the amusement park of our small bodies was but a chimera. We never even entered the park. Our unnatural selves begin to show. The upbeat buzz of carnival tune into the hum of our android limbs. Striving to belong, work as one with the colony of our peers; cogs and gears they break, guiding one another as drones down the darkened city streets. If only you remember, if only you acknowledge. It lives within you. It’s programmed inside of you. There is, and will be, artificial revolution. Individual revolution. Real world breakthrough. The buildings may loom, but the gaps in the towers let through the sun. The darkness may blanket the polluted haze, but the streetlights illuminate our eager bodies and minds. Our android clones grows real, as the younger selves break through in a kaleidoscope of brilliant colours and patterns.

The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!

French electronic producer and artist Rone, best known for his eclectic textural decadency is constantly reshaping and moulding his sound while staying quintessentially himself; as we see in his fourth album Mirapolis. An almost hallucinogenic journey through the human psyche and childhood memories, Rone guides us through a science fiction phantasmagoria. Influenced heavily by the absurdist and psychedelic imagery and themes of the 1927 film Metropolis; Rone, previously collaborating on projects with artists such as post-folk singer Sea Oleena and avant garde trumpeter Toshinori Kondo – has brought us true collaborative experiences in Mirapolis. Teaming up with the likes of Michael Gondry – French film director as well as designer of the album artwork – Kazu Makino, vocalist and multi instrumentalist of Blonde Redhead, Battles drummer John Stainer and Bryce Dessner of The National to name a few, we are presented with an array of sounds as an auditory voyage through Rone’s personal Metropolis.

Our introduction is that of ‘I, Philip‘. At the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the first French virtual reality short film I, Philip was introduced; dedicated to celebrated science fiction author Phillip K. Dick. A gentle induction into this experience of birth or re-birth; the choir sings to us as we open the curtains and let the light shine through. An upbeat auditory arrangement in major key; the sphere of ambient noise. The silence of a sunlit house; young one looking out the crib as loved ones are present and it’s early morning. I can hear you just fine. This ambience builds into a juxtaposition of glissando cyber-synths – our human subconscious is a gossamer Pandora’s box; but a fragile grasp on images in our minds. Easily distorted, easily lost. Easily replayed over and over when all we wish for is silence. However, what if human memory could be transported to something artificial? Something that never makes mistakes? Human subconscious within a non-human consciousness.

But then I realized how unhealthy it was, sensing the absence of life, not just in this building but everywhere, and not reacting – do you see?” – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Phillip K. Dick

However, through artificial eyes – imagine the possibilities of what we could see? Memories that had been long lost, in colours never before seen by the human eye! Patterns so intricate and delicate, understanding of oneself. Introduced to this new vision, in the album’s second track ‘Lou‘; we are greeted with the wolf’s howl of a young girl – I hear you, and I can see everything. Presented as a sample and hypnotic in nature, the girl’s cry is expressive in it’s minimalist approach; the sound of the tender voice accompanies the compelling rhythm provided by Battles drummer John Stainer – reminiscent of one’s heart beating excessively with exhilaration -yet- interrupted. Stop. Start. Slight. Subtle. A moment’s syncopation, the repeating young girl’s interjection reminding us of something not quite human. A decrescendo leads us to a moment of expectation, a synth swelling beneath the skin, the jolted electric spark of virtual soundscapes rising and crashing into breakdown of vigor and auricular bursts of vibrancy; unlike that of human perception, steady drumbeats and digital timbres combine in a delirium of the senses – our young one with her unnatural exclamation bringing the fade of John Stainer’s drums to a close and ending where she once began.

Before they came here I could stand it, being alone in this building. But now it’s changed…you can’t go from people to non-people.” – Phillip K. Dick

Melancholic keys; cold fingers wistful, they grasp one another hand in hand and pull into a mechanical abyss as we are drawn into ‘Switches‘ unrelenting ennui. What if not only our memories could be uploaded to an unconscious consciousness – but our thoughts, our feelings? What if we could detach from our swirling lovesick blues, but allow ourselves to watch them play out in front of us? With the heavy-hearted vocals of Baxter Dury, lyrics that fall off the tongue in doldrums;

Switches you can switch off
Wild imagination could never touch
Daylight overshows us
Reason, higher, smaller, all of us…

What if we could pick and choose what to feel, what not to feel – what to think about, what not to think about. If we had the power to flip the switch on/off/on/off…

I think I love you, but if it’s not broken you can just call me. I just always forgive you, y’know? I got a lot of… got a lot of words, y’know? So, just call me, yeah?

Angelic choral vocals follow the interlude of uncertainty, with brass accompaniment of the real or unreal. In making the decisions to flip the switches, would that make us less human, artificial beings – or raw, more human in our flawed states and rejected reality?

But what I’ve done, he thought; that’s become alien to me. In fact everything about me has become unnatural; I’ve become an unnatural self.” – Phillip K. Dick

Swept over by the possibility of losing ourselves; regaining ourselves – there’s liberation or there’s a failure that could lead us to ultimate regret. ‘Wave‘ presents us with a prospect that in turning off the switch, we may not be able to turn it on again. And then what? Flux electronics, glitch timbre and swallowed beats breathe within us; the underlying ebb and flow guiding us forward like the ticking of a clock, a movement smooth and fluid in its essence; yet pulsing in our chest, a tug like the forced footsteps of a wind up toy; a robotic march, only allowing us to move in one direction – we see those who we once turned away, beckoning to us. Yet we are unable to stray from the set path our android selves have chosen. We find ourselves desperate, we can see but cannot be seen – Noga Erez’s dreamlike, surreal vocals draw us into what is imagined to be the emptiness of an artificial reality. Adamant at first on flipping the switch, we may live in denial. “I’m in a good place..”

Yet juxtaposed with lyrics of the chorus;

Go out of your way, do it for me
While they smile, request, “Help me!”
Put the screen down, I don’t want them to see
Me as I plead, “Help me!”
Turn the lights on, don’t talk silently
Let’s change the subject, help me
I’m still here, hey, it’s still me
Think from behind the screen
“Help me, help me!

The tick tick ticking; ragdoll military march in a virtual reality void – it’s enough. Followed by the interlude, Erez’s disembodied voice falling in on itself… “I’ll become a smaller version of me, I’ll become a shorter version of me” although persisted by the clockwork march, we here the lyrics “I can see you wave, I am out of here.” Personal revolution, artificial breakthrough – upbeat digital instruments act as somewhat of a gateway outward, embracing the real, the younger self and our mistakes. It’s up to us to liberate ourselves, sometimes using our worst enemy against itself and breaking through.

What’s most terrifying of all however, is when we let our very real, very human selves fall victim to an artificial realm. A realm in which our memories, our experiences and our thoughts have.succumbed to darkness without us even being aware. In ‘Everything‘, slam-poet Saul Williams reaches out to both our younger, our current and our future selves. Escorted by delicate guitar, reminiscent of the heartbreaking melodies we’ve come to expect with genres such as post-rock; Rone guides us along with Williams’ raw, emotional words through a dialogue of self discovery and expression.

To our younger selves; “Here is your chance to belong…you were wrong, you bought into that simple shit…Because it felt good, and you needed it to feel good…but you don’t really need it…” sacrificing ourselves, synthetic beings crammed into tiny boxes with the refusal to grow; you don’t need to belong to be human.

To our current selves:

I need you right now…Just to listen for a minute…’Cause all these borders are fake…All these nationalities are fake…All these categories are fake

The binaries and labels, the programming and expectation – none of it is real. The walls that divide us are lines drawn in the sand – and the more we grow apart from one another, the more the sand turns to concrete and the higher the walls build themselves up, the harder they become to destroy. We don’t need to belong, we need to stand together as individuals. We don’t need to fit into make believe categories in order to work together. We have the power; it doesn’t have to be this way.

To our future selves;

Playing along just like everybody else – You thought it was funny, you thought it was cool… you keep on practising it because it feels good…

Makes you feel like you belong to something, something bigger than yourself –

And you do, you belong to something bigger than yourself, bigger than yourself…I see it…

Our android clones; as we’ve grown, our unnatural selves have been shaped and programmed. We could have broken away, we could have flipped the android off switch. The pastoral soundscapes that sweep and flutter behind Williams‘ vocals build like skyscrapers above our small bodies and overwhelm in climactic shadow; synths growing and growing as though their sound is constructing the walls, overtaking our natural impulse and replacing it with tethered wires that spark and flicker with every movement. We’re all moving now, but we’ve clashed, we’ve cried and we’ve burned ourselves to a crisp. The seascape overwhelm of electronic post-rock has faded now, too hot to the touch as Williams reminds us;

You destroy everything.

The closing track of the album, ‘Down For The Cause‘, brings us back to our gleaming metropolis; the glittering lights imbue us with shivers of colour, the dream state has never felt more real. An embrace for our spirit brings us back to ourselves, to one another. Kazu Makino’s vocals reverberate, weaving refraction through exuberant bubbles of electronic melody. The playful and exciting nature fills us with an urge to move, to feel, to create…to recognize each other, work with one another and overcome whatever barriers have arisen; our adult world spins like an out of control carousel, but in the flash of the ever changing landscape – the impulse of the young one within ourselves is something real to latch onto. Something to keep us fighting for ourselves and one another; a mirage of ourselves, able to break free from the mechanical impulse and turn it to our liking.

In Mirapolis, Rone demonstrates to us how we may find ourselves lost to the unnatural; hooked up to a machine that turns the ever ticking clock, our wind up doll feet marching through the streets, hollow and linear in our tracks. The memories we once held, the warmth of childhood and embrace of our true nature can so easily be stolen from us – yet, it can too be grasped within us and nest within our chests, the digital and artificial not an oppressor but a liberator – our amusement park chimera a living reality. The recognition of ourselves in the face of the others, the recognition of others in the phantasmagoria of our present. There is ever changing opportunity for exploration, for experimentation, for revolution. It is just as easy to breakthrough and build up, as it is to turn off and shut down. The memories we carry with us, as children, as teenagers – spill into the metropolis we explore as our adult selves; with the beauty of their existence, comes too, an uncertainty and heaviness with their baggage. We don’t need to let them go, hold onto them and upload them into a forever-ago. Faced with an individual and artificial revolution, you’ll find the tools to break through clutched within your hands if you take a moment to look; Young one, just let yourself go.


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(Image credit: Olivier Donnet)