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Album Of The Week

Anime Mundi: Meemo Comma's Neon Genesis: Soul Into Matter²
Hannah Pezzack , March 18th, 2021 09:05

For her latest release on Planet Mu, Meemo Comma weaves together science fiction and Jewish mysticism with luminous results, finds Hannah Pezzack

Photo by Ken Street

Featuring the writing of Neil Gaiman and Rachel Pollack, People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction is a 2010 anthology of short stories inspired by religious texts. In the introduction to the collection, editor Ann VanderMeer writes, “Almost every book of the Torah contains reference to angels, and they are mentioned all throughout the Jewish prayer book. And the most important prayer of all the Amidah (also known as the Shmoneh Esreh – the eighteen blessings, because there is magic in numbers), portrays bringing the dead back to life… just take a glance at the writings of Ezekiel where he describes the Divine Chariot and a Creature with four faces. If that’s not fantastical, then I don’t know what is.”

The tradition of cosmological thought in Judaism is centuries old. For instance, the Zohar is a thirteenth-century book, written mostly in Aramaic, that is the classic text of esoteric mysticism or Kabbalah. It deals with the nature of God (known as Ein Sof, the endless One) and the universe. The goal of Kabbalah, and other mystical traditions, is to facilitate the spiritual union of the human being with the divine through contemplative practices. In the Zohar, the act of spiritual contemplation is erotic, as mystics are described as studying late at night, and their relationship with God is portrayed as that between two lovers. A friend once described the book to me as “Essentially a medieval space opera.”

Neon Genesis: Soul Into Matter² opens eerily with ‘Upload To Unit Kadmon’, where monastic voices chant and demonic creatures speak in tongues. Rising into a crescendo of harmonised screams, the track is cut short by a bright, computerised voice: “Press OK to continue!” This mix of spirituality, cybernetics, and video game ciphers sets the tone for the album, which takes its name from the 1990s anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Having spent her teenage years watching the Japanese TV show, Meemo Comma (aka Lara Rix-Martin) was fascinated by its use of Jewish themes – particularly the character of Lilith, an angel whose origins are inspired by Hebrew folklore. Turning to cult manga like Fullmetal Alchemist (2001–2010) and Kenji Kawai’s score to Ghost In The Shell (1995), Rix-Martin discovered further Kabbalistic symbols and narratives, which guided her towards exploring her own relationship with her Jewish identity.

Framed as a soundtrack to an imaginary anime, Neon Genesis: Soul Into Matter² is subheaded with a mission statement: “In the year 5781 humanity is ever closer to becoming a singular consciousness. A team of humans are forming an android, Adam Kadmon (CODENAME: UNIT KADMON). First, humans have to gain higher consciousness guided by the Sefirot.” But rather than being a Vitruvian man, this Adam (as described in the Torah) is both male and female simultaneously. “The idea that the first human was non gendered and just this form, made up from the qualities of HaShem (God)… [was] a central, hopeful inspiration to me,” explained Rix-Martin. She spent the past year re-reading the Talmud and researching Kabbalistic concepts, setting out to make explicit the links between Judaism and sci-fi. On the track ‘Tzimtzum’ – a term referring to the moment at the beginning of the universe when divine energy allowed for finite and seemingly independent realms to exist – is full of collapsing black noise where a choir of seraphim, or six winged angels, sing.

The ethereal vocals return on ‘Neon Genesis Title Sequence’, over clattering breakbeats, reminiscent of other contemporary revivalists of the genre such as AD 93’s Happa or Beatrice Dillion. ‘Tohu & Tikun’ winds down to a sluggish, dub-infused pace, while ‘Tif’eret’ is a pounding techno-crux. Clanking industrial noise powers ‘Gevurah’ as Rix-Martin flexes through the breadth of the electronic canon. Her familiarly and ease at channelling these varied dance styles has undoubtedly been honed at the helm of Objects Limited, an experimental record label with a focus on under-represented female and non-binary talent. In 2017, Rix-Martin rekindled interest in a near-forgotten veteran DJ of the 1990s Chicago scene, Jana Rush, with her celebrated release Pariah. The echo of Rush’s footwork-tinged sound can be heard here on ‘Merkabah’s acrobatic use of hyper-rhythmic drum patterns and clipped, cut-out samples.

Despite its dancefloor orientation, however, the most luminous moments of Neon Genesis arrive during the softer, more introspective interludes. Euphoric trumpet and half-heard whispers form a duet of glossolalia on ‘Ein Sof’, and the synth-piano melody of ‘End Credits’ makes for a hyperpop lullaby. Sung-spoken prayers, reverent and melancholic, are woven through the album like a red thread, transforming its bursts of club-energy into oases of meditative calm. Yet, even without the context of the religious teaching and cosmological philosophy, the record is an enrapturing love letter to the otherworldly potentialities of electronica. Meemo Comma has coalesced a poetic, highly personal search for identity and the grand mythology of heritage into a cyborg vision of the future.