Document Type

Thesis

Publication details

Brown, JM 2008, 'Blitz: discursive bombardments in 'the war on terror'', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright JM Brown 2008

Abstract

This is a composite thesis realised in a sound installation titled Blitz: Discursive bombardments in ‘the war on terror’ with a supporting exegesis. The exegesis offers a context for the project in sound art theory and practice, focussing specifically on the history of experimental ‘electrovocal’ expressive forms. It provides an account of the artist’s perspectives on the topic itself: contemporary political discourse on themes of security and danger. The exegesis also defines the scope of the project and documents the creative process undergone to realise its outcome: an installation apparatus capable of folding visitors into a heightened sense of the zeitgeist of early 21st century Australia. The genealogy of the project is described in terms of pivotal decisions and insights, technologies and techniques used, and aesthetic and ethical concerns. The nexus of voice – its material and metaphorical resonances in public discourse – and technologies for recording, manipulating and circulating sound are central to the development of this apparatus. The core body of sounds used in the installation are the voices of politicians, media presenters, members of the public and ‘experts’ and are presented in the form of short sound bites. These were sampled from many hours of recordings of news and current affairs material captured from Australian public broadcasters (radio and television, the ABC and SBS) over the pre-election months of 2004. The voices extol and debate diverse ‘angles’ on the so-called ‘war on terror’ and its physical enactments and outcomes in the war on Iraq. Other sounds offset the voices to enhance a sense of surreal ambience and introduce meanings through metaphor; children’s voices; rhythmically dripping taps; footsteps; ticking clocks; the drone of planes overhead. Various sound processing techniques are applied to samples and a sonic montage iscreated through random juxtapositions of sounds played synchronously from an assemblage of iPods. The figure of the labyrinth is central to the work on many levels, materially and metaphorically. It is used to structure movement through the installation space, a dimly lit ‘black box’ studio of ten by eight metres. Against the traditional practice of silently ‘walking the labyrinth’ as metaphor for a ‘journey within’, the Blitz labyrinth invites walkers to fold themselves into a dynamic field of allusions and aural messages and thereby to warp and shift the emerging play of meanings. The walk wends in and out of proximity to seven iPods set in small portable speakers and dispersed around the floor of the installation space. The ‘pods’ broadcast playlists of sounds bites that play randomly in ‘shuffle’ mode – against one another and against silences – to convey a sense of immersion in the discursive blitz of messages about terrorism and war from the media. The labyrinth is drawn out across the floor in dashed lines – made from small reflective rectangles that light up as visitors move around the space with torches – and is designed to suggest the feel of a road or a landing ground at night. The meandering trajectory of walking bodies around the curves of the labyrinth creates a choreography of audition, of moving and listening strategically to a barrage of sound from ever shifting perspectives. It invites walkers to listen for possibilities that may lie between and beyond the dominant narratives of western political leaders, to locate the gaps and silences. Beyond the pervasive noise of discourse normalised by politicians and the media, what is it that we might otherwise wish to hear and to speak?

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