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Debate: Music and War

War is the 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. We asked musicians from the Norient network how to make a war audible. A virtual debate from the Norient exhibition Seismographic Sounds (see and order corresponding book here [1]).

Cover Art, Heart & Crossbone (Israel)

Complete Debate: The Video


«To be honest, I preferred to stand on the balcony, to play trumpet and to record those bombs, rather than to stay in the living room and go crazy. When you play, you shift your brain, and you hear those bombs as sounds, and not as killing machines. Just to continue working helped many of us to stay sane.»

Mazen Kerbaj [2], trumpet player, about his recording «Starry Night» [3] (Lebanon)

«I never felt the need or desire to translate war into music.»

Sharif Sehnaoui [4], a free improvising guitarist from Beirut. Since 2000 he has co-organized Irtijal, the International Festival for Experimental Music in Lebanon. He co-runs several labels: Al Maslakh devoted to «publishing the un-publishable» on the Lebanese musical scene; Johnny Kafta’s Kids Menu dedicated to rock-oriented experimentations; and Annihaya, which focuses on sampling, recycling, and the displacement of various aspects of popular culture.

«So we have life imitating art, and art dictating life, and plenty of death.»

Bernard Clarke [5], Radio Producer, RTÉ Lyric FM (Ireland)

«By sampling footage from contemporary sci-fi and action films, the video emphasizes that ‹the world is at war.› It analyses the violence and destructive culture surrounding us. Does life imitate art and are we heading along the path of what is prophesied in these films? Or will we choose a more sustainable mode? Sources are sampled for demonstrational use only.»

Jude MC, visual artist, producer and director of the «Mecca» video for Nguzunguzu (USA)

«Communities can use silence to protest against the omnipresent noise of politics.»

Kamen Nedev [6] aka Acoustic Mirror, Madrid-based sound artist (Spain)

«In western videos you get an exotic and romanticized version of war: the strong army, the beautiful soldier, the massive weapons. I experienced war: the real noise of it, the smell of fire. War is hell. We shouldn’t make it look adventurous and sexy.»

Zeid Hamdan [7], Beirut-based musician, producer, founder of the duo Soap Kills with singer Yasmine Hamdan, and is a pioneer of alternative music (Lebanon)

«Pop emerged in western liberal societies that haven’t experienced war on their territory in the last seventy years. For these societies war is not a reality, but just an image. Naturally it can be played with, just like any other image. Maybe we need a whole new musical language to construct a musical response to the reality of war and not just to an image of war.»

Nadav Appel [8], cultural critic and popular music scholar, Bar Ilan University, Open University of Israel and Sapir Academic College (Israel)

«The Khabees are my personal favorite. They are an anonymous noise/industrial act from somewhere inside Pakistan who seek to explore our fetishist fascination with religion and our everyday reality: terrorism. I like The Khabees because of how uneasy they make me feel. It is easier to dismiss Westerners exploring similar themes. The Khabees’ work, on the other hand, is hard to ignore. No edgy BDSM references, no borderline paedophilia, or rape fantasies. Real death and misery.»

Asadullah [9], Karachi-based musician, part of Lower Sindh! Swing Orchestra, Myosis and Kafir-e-Azam, and co-founder of the now defunct extreme music blog The Iron Markhor (Pakistan)

Video Debate Credits

Statements by
Nadav Appel [8], Cultural Critic (Israel)
Meira Asher [10], Sound Artist (Israel)
Bernard Clarke [5], Radio Producer, RTÉ Lyric FM (Ireland)
Garo Gdanian, Metal Musician (Lebanon)
Rona Geffen [11], DIY Musician & Artist (Germany)
Ali Gul Pir [12], Rap Comedian (Pakistan)
Zeid Hamdan [7], Musician (Lebanon)
David Opp [13], Experimental Musician (Israel)
Sharif Sehnaoui [4], Musician (Lebanon)

Music Video Excerpts
David Opp: «Sakata Helicobtir Min Tiraz Sikorsky» [14] (Israel 2013)
Los Tigres Del Norte: «La Bala» [15] (USA/Mexico 2014)
Nguzunguzu: «Mecha» [16] (USA 2013)

Video Cut: Stephan Hermann, Coupdoeil [17]

Some quotes from this debate were published in the second Norient book Seismographic Sounds [18].