Director: Jürgen Muschalek aka Muscha
Release Date: 19 February 1984 (West Germany)
F.M. Einheit [EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN],
Christiane F (elsherinow),
Intro / The Story
Decoder, an underground film from the early 80's has developed to a somehow prophetic cult movie. With an unique engagement of exceptional players, who for the most part play themselves (FM Einheit of Einstürzende Neubauten, the true Christiane F. of the infamous Bahnhof Zoo, Genesis P-Orridge of Psychic TV and the American writer William S. Burroughs) and extraordinary music of the time, such as Soft Cell, Einstürzende Neubauten, The The, the film dramatizes the transcending innovation which punk brought to the fields of communication, like a perfect precursor for the cyberpunk genre.
Muzak, the artificial music product created by scientists and marketing experts to increase efficiency and enhance wellbeing, irrigates men everywhere. A young punk and hobby sound mechanic decodes this music and creates an antidote to provoke disturbances not only in the burger joints where he found this music. By recruiting street pirates to spread his twisted sounds via tapes (an idea directly taken from Burroughs' cut up manuals) the tumults turn into violent streetfighting (with real footage from Berlin's infamous Anti Reagan riots). The big corporations can not tolerate this and engage a shady agent to stop the antimuzak movement.
Muzak, by its very nature, has undoubted political significance. With this in mind, the authors of Decoder have achieved a blend of reality and fiction. Surreal, metaphorical imagery interwoven with music, words, and sound effects make this a musical action movie with a very physical impact and an exciting insight view in the subcultural ideas and aesthetics of the early 80's.
"Information is like a bank. Our job is to rob that bank." (Genesis P-Orridge in Decoder)
DECODER focuses on the sonic experiments of a disillusioned 'noise-freak' FM, played by FM Einheit (aka Mufti) of the 'experimental' music group Einstürzende Neubauten (1), who is experimenting with white-noise and infra-sound, recording the daily noises around him and mixing them in his home-studio. FM wants to know: "the connection between these dumb-faced and contented people, gorging themselves on one hamburger after another, and the monotonously happy muzak constantly oozing out of the speakers..." From his studio window FM watches the frantic movements of the streets. After having a dream in which FM sees his partner, Christiana (Christiane Felscherinow aka Christiane F.),walking in a post-apocalyptic landscape with a figure of an old man, dressed in shabby coat and trilby, and hearing the clipped tones of Burroughs'voice from his own cut-up tape-recorder experiments, FM awakes and immediately begins to experiment in his studio with his recordings of fast-food restaurant (H.Burgers) Muzak, a form of audio valium. A second dream depicts FM entering a small shop; when the shopkeeper (William Burroughs) asks him what he wants FM replies "Nothing special", and appearing uncertain of what he is doing or looking for, FM knocks over a box of electrical diodes. The shopkeeper, who has been carefully dismantling a cassette recorder, jumps up, strides over to FM and states: "You start from zero preconceptions - you want 'nothing special' - here it is". The shopkeeper gives him the dismantled machine.
While out walking and recording noises, FM enters an abandoned warehouse, inside he watches as a number of people drum repetitively on a various pieces of percussion. Small fires burn in a trashcans scattered throughout the buildings. As FM watches he is seen by the percussionists, who drag him into an inner chember. Here FM is seduced by the
flashing lights of a Dream Machine,while Buttoughs' voice asks "Is this machine recording?" Then the guru figure (credited as Hohepriester, and played by Genesis P-Orridge) questions FM's presence in the building, asking if the tape player was being used to trigger a virus. FM explains his reason for recording, and Hohepriester tells FM "Information is guarded like a bank and we have to rob this bank" . FM explains that he wants to utilize sound as a weapon.
FM begins to use his tape experiments as a form of anti-muzak, replacing the artificially soothing muzak of H. Burger restaurants with his own tapes, which- instead of inspiring placid catatonic consumption - create nausea and violence among the restaurant's patrons. The insurrection caused by FM's anti-muzak and infra-sound tapes increases, leading to large-scale riots triggered off by punks holding tape-players blasting out FM's tapes. In response to the growing defiance the Muzak Corporatin coerce reluctant hit-man Jager (Bill Rice) to kill FM. Jager, however, has fallen in love with peep-show model Christiana on one of his many visits to the "sleazy sin city" of the Reeperbahn, initially unaware that she is FM's girlfriend. Finally, Jager, - who is tired of being the lackey of the Muzak Corporation - recognizes that Christiana loves FM, and is killed by a speeding truck. Maeck describes it, "In the end he knew he had to finish the job. He was in Love with Christiane and then he realized Mufti, who he should find and kill, is her boyfriend. So he says, 'OK. I'll finish the job in my own interests'but he couldn't do it in the end..."(2)
Decoder presents a uniquely political interpretation of Burroughs' work, and - via the use of Burroughs in the film's dream sequences - directly attributes the narrative's central concerns to Burroughs' tape-recorder experiments. Burroughs only appears in the film for a short time during the electronic-shop sequences (shot with the assistance of Peter Christipherson during Burroughs' stay in London for the Final Academy events which transpired in 1982), yet via the repeated use of his distinctive voice, and the use of the Dreamachine, Burroughs remains a powerful figure clearly present in the margins of the text.
special sound filtering and mixing techniques are employed in constructing a particular tonal sequence designed to increase efficiency and enhance wellbeing. Used to stimulate or soothe, it is suitable for large office or factory companies, supermarkets and restaurants, dentists and hospitals.
(1) Einstürzende Neubauten (1980-present day) are Germany's most famous avantgarde musicans/experimentalist, who have experimented with the very limits of sound and music, exploring the use of non-instruments. The group are notorius'for utilizing the percussive potentialities of scarp-metal, but have experimented widely with the rhythms and sound which define the modern world, ranging from; concrete bridges, heartbeats, drills, to burning oil. In the studio the band experiment with the very recording process itself, mixing, re-mixing, and cutting/up their music, via a direct engagement with the musical potentialities of electricity and the mixing desk itself. [ back ]
(2) Klaus Maeck, cited in KM: Interview by Tom Vague and Manuella Rickers. Hamburg (Germany), October 1984, in Vague [The 20th Century And How To Leave It], Psychic Terrorism Annual, #16/17, 1988 (1984), p.87. [ back ]
Sonic experiments of a disillusioned 'noise-freak' played by FM Einheit
(of Einstürzende Neubauten)
who is experimenting with white-noise and infra-sound to utilize sound as a weapon.