Radio Quarantine – LES SENTIERS CONFLICTUELS – Post-traumatismes (La Grande Illusion / 2003)

The thing is with exploring anything beyond the surface, in this case music, is if you’re willing to go in deep, you will at some point come across something that defies any definition. I can get my head around the broader context of the words dark ambient, or experimental but this one takes it further. LES SENTIERS CONFLICTUELS is just… different. Most of the albums I’ve found under the dark ambient label portray a sort of horror movie soundtrack. Post-traumatismes is more in the vein of a war movie perhaps. Trenches. A bunker. An air raid. Strafing. It’s beautiful but it’s not easy. The gothic landscapes of the other dark ambient I’ve heard, or the sci-fi vibes, are easier. It’s easier to set aside the images they invoke as fictional. It’s not the same with this one. It seems, despite the samples of World War 1 era songs, more present. It’s more of a realistic threat.

But at the same time, intriguing and beautiful. Frightening, like the battlefield triage photo above. And real.

I first listened to this a few days ago and I’ve been sitting on it to try to make more sense of the emotions is raised in me. The words still haven’t come and maybe that’s not important. I looked for more background to see if there was some context or even a mission statement that described the intent but came up with very little. It’s the musical project of a Franco-Vietnamese medical student named Phillippe Kam. I’m guessing that he is now about my age so it would be natural to assume that as much as the Vietnamese war horrors overshadowed my early life, it hit him a lot harder. Is that what this is about? There’s no real information either way, but it’s impossible that it had no effect on him. My own experience was mostly removed by distance. Yes, we saw the war every night on television. It was pretty much every dinner table (and breakfast table) conversation. Families we knew had lost people. My brother had brutal corrective surgery in a hospital in Haverstraw, New York, where veterans of the jungle war came back to be pieced back together or just wait to die.

It wasn’t abstract. War was a very real thing and shaped my generation more than we talk about regularly now. The idea of growing up just to be drafted to go die in a rice paddy was a very real concern. We all knew people that either didn’t come home, or came home destroyed. Layer over that the Cold War and nuclear threat, and that nobody had yet recovered from the Second World War (which admittedly was fading into abstraction but still present), and you’ve got… a mess of a generation.

Then slowly, as we went through the 80s and into the 90s, existential fear did fade into abstraction for Americans at least. The Soviet Union collapsed. China opened up more. We weren’t at odds with Super Powers in the same way so the very idea of mass destruction dissipated. We got a dose of very real fear in 2001 with the attack on the World Trade Center. That was more of a surprise because having gone through the Cold War without a major incident any attack of that severity seemed improbable. Still, even fears of further attacks seemed more of an abstraction. We recovered quickly. It was limited to two very localized attacks. Then any ensuing violence was on the other side of the world, and our own casualties were many fewer. The powers-that-be have tried with varying success to raise the level of fear with Bogeymen like Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-un, but these fears however valid they may be don’t occupy as much space in our daily lives as former specters of death and mayhem. Generations behind mine, largely, don’t spend as much time wondering where they will die and for what.

The odd thing is, or maybe not so odd, is that we are still probably a more fearful society. In the vacuum created by the collapse of externalized threat we have turned inwards and the same sort of rhetoric and fear-mongering is applied to immigrants who are already here, but more so other Americans who don’t think like us. We are more fearful than ever of each other, and how valid those fears are remains to be seen. It’s clearly more dangerous than a lot of people had given it credit for.

But fear though… It seems fear and paranoia supplanted any other driving force or motivation for our socio-political actions. It just seems to me that we have every reason to be less fearful, and yet… It’s as bad if not worse than any point in my life.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense to anyone who reads it. I’m thinking aloud. Like the emotions mined by this recording, these thoughts are still half-formed. Or maybe they seem half-formed because my brain is looking for a solution and there is none in sight.

For further consideration.

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