War is the biggest and most horrible drama of human kind. Yet the noises of war – everything from swords clanging to modern machine guns and bombs – have fascinated musicians and composers for centuries. For his mix «shots were fired» for the section «war» from the Norient exhibition Seismographic Sounds the Irish radio journalist Bernard Clarke combined radio news samples with musically deconstructed war sounds.
shots were fired
(see credits and used voices/samples below)
«shots were fired» is a deeply personal response to a tragedy and farce played out in a Paris dripping with blood and a media whipping up a frenzy; to and of the forgotten victims in France and around the world; and of and to the so-called world leaders who seized on this outrage for a media opportunity, a «selfie».
Western societies are not the havens of rationalism that they often proclaim themselves to be. The West is a polychromatic space, in which both freedom of thought and tightly regulated speech exist, and in which disavowals of deadly violence happen at the same time as clandestine torture.
And yet, at moments when Western societies consider themselves under attack, the discourse is quickly dominated by an ahistorical fantasy of long-suffering fortitude in the face of provocation. Yet European and American history are so strongly marked by efforts to control speech that the persecution of rebellious thought stands as a bedrock of these societies.
Witch burnings, heresy trials, and the untiring work of the Inquisition shaped Europe, and these ideas extended into American history as well and took on American modes, from the breaking of slaves to the genocide of American Indians to censuring of critics of «Operation Iraqi Freedom».
Like everybody else I was appalled and deeply shocked by the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January 2015. The subsequent rampage and hysteria brought even more pain and distress upon France and especially victims of these crimes being mourned – worldwide – these ordinary human beings, beloved by their families and precious to their friends.
The satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo has often aimed choice barbs at Muslims and taken a particular joy in flouting the Islamic ban on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s also regularly mocked political targets, as well as Christian and Jewish tropes. The magazine depicted the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in a sexual threesome. Like England’s Monty Python and America’s Frank Zappa, Charlie Hebdo has an enduring willingness to offend everyone.
Alas, the opportunity for so-called world leaders to seize upon the media attention and proclaim themselves great humanitarians was sickening making a complete mockery of @jesuischarlie.
Who can forget the spectacle of «big» political names from all around the world holding hands in «solidarity» with the victims of the Paris killings, from Cameron to Lavrov, from Netanyahu to Abbas: if there was ever an image of absolute hypocritical falsity, this was it. Worse the spectacle was literally staged: the pictures shown in the media gave the impression that the line of political leaders was at the front of a large crowd walking along an avenue. But another photo was taken of the entire scene from above, clearly showing that behind the politicians there were only a hundred or so people and a lot of empty space, patrolled by police, behind and around them.
«shots were fired» draws on speech samples (Irish Radio news channels) and granular synthesis techniques (shredding printer machine sounds, computer keyboards, old internet dial-up connections, typewriters, telephone answering machine noises) for a «media-music». Location recordings from Paris and Libya are also utilized.
The piece is dedicated to Thomas Burkhalter and Anna Trechsel.
War (Introduction from Seismographic Sounds)
War is the biggest and most horrible drama of human kind. Yet the noises of war – everything from swords clanging to modern machine guns and bombs – have fascinated musicians and composers for centuries. War games become bestsellers and images of child soldiers circulate around the world within seconds. How can musicians oppose this? Songs against violence? Subcultural noise against omnipresent propaganda? Parodies on dictators and warlords? Every artistic counter-position is quickly accused of «naïve activism», «opportunism» or of «making profit of someone else’s blood». This chapter leads us to the British electronica artist Matthew Herbert and Irish radio journalist Bernard Clarke who remix sounds from warfare into challenging audio pieces – and happy dance music. A main focus lies on underground artists from Israel who are opposing Israeli politics. Musicians in Egypt, the Ukraine and Lebanon discuss experiences with revolution and conflict. And we learn: gunshots can unite people, and it’s better to work with real blood than fake blood in video clips.
The text was published first as an introduction to the chapter «War» in the second Norient book Seismographic Sounds. Click on the image to know more.
Place or studio of recording of the work
RTÉ lyric fm, Limerick, Ireland
Technical means used
Logic Pro IX
Native Instruments Reaktor
RTÉ Sound Archives
Voices / Samples
Barack Obama, President, United States
Mary Wilson, Broadcaster, RTÉ Radio 1
George Galloway, MP, London
François Hollande, President, France
Tony Abbot, Prime Minister, Australia
Fiona Kelly, Broadcaster, RTÉ Radio 1
Joe Biden, Vice-President, United States
Irish Protestors-various and anonymous, Anti-War campaign 2008
Sean O’Rourke, Broadcaster, RTÉ Radio 1
Robert Shortt, Broadcaster, RTÉ Radio & Television
Noam Chomsky, Linguist, Political Activist, United States
Mary Fitzgerald, Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Irish Times
Eileen Dunne, Broadcaster, RTÉ Radio & Television
Dianne Feinstein, Chairperson, US Senate Intelligence Committee
John Brennan, CIA Director, United States
John Finnerty, journalist & broadcaster, RTÉ
Dr Ali Selim, Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland
Bryan Dobson, Broadcaster, RTÉ Radio & Television
Richard Downes, Broadcaster, RTÉ Radio & Television
Sharon Ní Bheoláin, Broadcaster, RTÉ Radio & Television
Paul Colgan, Broadcaster, RTÉ Radio & Television
All samples voices and location sounds from the RTÉ Radio & Television Archives.
«Music» – fashioned from machines like computer keyboards, printers, telephone rings, beeps, connected/disconnected tones; location gunfire sounds used to generate drones; the same drones then sliced up into patterns and riffs.