Decoder (Muscha, 1984)

w. DE, 87 min

Hamburg, 1983. F.M. is a youngster leading an idle urban life, totally alienated from his environment, and only active when making “sound experiments” in his home studio. Christiana, his girlfriend, works in a peepshow on Reeperbahn. A chronically depressed customer is infatuated by her and tries to get more closely acquainted. The relationship between F.M. and Christiana is cool and distant, except for the moments at breakfast, when they share the muddled visions of their dreams.

One day F.M. suddenly wakes up to the reality around him, as he notices how the inconspicuous background music at a hamburger joint may have some connection with the junk food. It dawns on him that muzak is designed to control and brainwash the masses, not unlike lobotomy. On top of its paralysing effects, muzak is also laced with subliminal messages. F.M. decides to go back to the restaurant and records the muzak for his own purposes. He starts to develop a form of “anti-muzak” in his studio, by playing the original material backwards, or at a wrong speed, or by mixing it with interfering factors like sounds of street riots or squealing frogs.

[spoilers follow]

In a dream of his F.M. receives support for his one-man war from an old shopkeeper (William Burroughs) selling electronics spare parts. He gives F.M. a disassembled cassette with the advice “This is all you need!” While wandering around the city, F.M. runs into members of a shady cult, “the pirates”, who have taken over an abandoned building in order to practice their nocturnal rituals of “black noise”. The core of their high priest’s (Genesis P-Orridge) message is: “Information is like a bank. Some of us are rich, while others are poor. It is our mission to rob that bank.” F.M. and the pirates decide to co-operate. They perform terrorist attacks in Burger Kings and McDonalds, armed with cassette players and anti-muzak. The customers get sudden nausea attacks and start rushing to the exits

The action continues around the city, until the mighty Muzak Corporation intervenes by sending agent Jger to track down the tape terrorists. Things get complicated when F.M. finds out that Christiana’s secret admirer and regular peepshow visitor is none other than Jger himself. All the while, F.M. and the pirates keep copying more anti-muzak cassettes and distributing them to people in the streets. Mass hysteria and general chaos ensue.

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