Sunday, June 23

Annihilation and the Power of Anxiety | Features

Films such as “Akira” waste little time creating an immersive soundscape that keeps viewers on edge as we’re hit with waves of warring genres and instrumentation. Composed by the experimental collective Geinoh Yamashirogumi, the score marries inspirations from Noh music (traditional Japanese theater) as well as prog rock, Indonesian folk music, and more, as a way of making the consistent leitmotifs increasingly destabilizing. Fusing East Asian folk with symphonic choral works and club music puts to sound the film’s themes of requiem and oblivion. 

“Uncut Gems” composer Daniel Lopatin (mastermind of Oneohtrix Point Never) created a similar sensation. His cosmic sound expression marries the film’s narrative’s pace with a ricocheting pulse, blanketing the dull roar of constant dialogue and the angry New York soundscape. The inevitability of the film’s conclusion might be a given, but the anxiety the score produces with its synth-focused design and rushes of noise settles at the start when we don’t know better.

As for “Annihilation,” the work of Barrow and Salisbury is a masterful understanding of these composition styles, as the greatest achievement in embodying anxiety through score alone is made by contorting an acute dissonance of sounds. “Annihilation,” to a degree even more than the aforementioned works, is a perfect example of how to sequence a score to mimic a panic attack. 

Anxiety and I share a history. 

I used to wake up believing the world had ended. Silent and gray, my childhood home became a tomb assembled by my wordless, humiliating fears. I’d lie awake, momentarily paralyzed, before checking on my parents, my sisters, and my pets, too, to make sure they were still alive. 

My breath is so often stolen in these instances, each breath won through bartering. I was told young that the root of an anxiety attack was the sense of impending doom, no matter how inexplicable. What I came to learn was that I wasn’t so much terrorized by the apocalypse but by the panic that comes with the cold sweat effect of believing my world as I know it is ending. I will be struck speechless and motionless day after day for months at a time, believing that each and every time I survived was a fluke: today, the earth is on fire, the sky really is falling, and the sun will go dark. Anxiety, for me, is the fear that comes from knowing my brain is an unreliable narrator.

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