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Weir, D 2010, 'Mashing power: musical re-imaginings of post-9/11 political rhetoric', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright D Weir 2010


This composite thesis is the realisation of a practice-based research project. It comprises a compact disc of recorded compositions and a supporting exegesis. The practical outcomes of creative arts practice are presented on the CD. Here, contemporary music composition and production skills, conjoined with a personal political/philosophical perspective, have been applied to the creation of what I have called ‘political mashup’. Political mashup is a post-9/11 form of oppositional music that incorporates sampled political speech into composed musical settings. Mass mediated political speech is captured, digitally manipulated, and set to music to form alternative narratives.

In the nine pieces presented on CD, prominent power-wielders in post-9/11 Western democracies are ‘corrected’ by their own words, verbalising confessional narratives that speak alternative truths to those disseminated by the broadcast media. These musically imagined realities are set against the backdrops of the war on terror, impending environmental crises, political spin and government alignment with a globally networked capitalist hegemony. I refer to the latter as ‘Empire’, following Hardt and Negris’ (2000) theoretical conception. I argue that a central lever of Empire’s power is its ability to install in populations, through instruments such as the mass media, universalising norms that serve hegemonic interests – prominent among them being the normalisation of violence. My works attempt to escape this field of influence by letting non-violent principles guide the construction of the narratives.

The exegesis presents the various contexts within which the creative works may be analysed in detail. My creative practice is placed within historical traditions of musical protest and cultural activism. Through a recounting both of political developments and the mass media’s role in representing them in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks on America, I elaborate the personal political/philosophical perspective that oversaw the creative process. This perspective is fashioned through the application of a variety of theoretical tools that are applied within a broader critical methodological framework. In this respect the project crosses disciplinary boundaries; creative arts practice is informed by cultural studies and political theory. The roles of music and sound as means of signifying are examined, and the variety of technical tools and processes applied to the composition and production of the works is catalogued. I recreate the studio-based processes by which the musical pieces were realised, reflecting upon the creative aims, problems, challenges and breakthroughs that I encountered in this creative arts practice.

I argue that, in its appropriation of the technological tools and infrastructure of globalised capitalist hegemony, political mashup offers its practitioners a sense of agency in relation to Empire. Counter-hegemonic claims for the music are extended beyond its oppositional content, into its very processes of production and distribution. Particular focus is given to the cultural significance of the Internet as a technology that is enabling networks of geographically dispersed individuals to engage in new, more egalitarian modes of cultural production and exchange.

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