The Rogue Sounds Project: Musical Anti-war Activism

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Pranks

Submitted by David Weir about political mashups and his Rogue Sounds Project:

Rogue Sounds ProjectThe post-9/11 US-led response to the attacks on the US converged with a burgeoning technology industry, a seemingly endless media-hyped war, and increasing availability of high speed internet to give rise to a new form of musical antiwar activism. ‘Political mashup’ utilises digital audio technologies to recontextualise sampled political speech, forming alternative narratives to those intended by the speakers.

Armed with computers and audio sequencing software, political mashers enjoy considerable latitude in reconstructing meaning from the hijacked words of politicians. New narratives formulated through reordering of words and phrases – and the occasional construction of words from syllables – are imbued with further meaning through the addition of music, which can be used for dramatic, humorous and ironic effect.


Listen to two sample mp3’s from The Rogue Sounds Project below — The Redemption of George W and Rendering Babylon remix — and then read on…


US President George W. Bush’s role as the most visible and audible architect of the ‘war on terror’ has made his speech particularly vulnerable to capture by a multitude of mashup artists eager to oppose the war (a vast archive of recorded Bush speech is available for free download from a website: thebots.org). Their opposition seems to radiate from a shared sense that Bush’s actual pretexts for invading Iraq were shrouded in the now all too familiar rhetoric about ‘spreading democracy’ and weapons of mass destruction. In seeking possible rationales for such deceptions (which circumvent popular conspiracy theories) I now find myself blinking in the light of several incandescent minds. For instance: Michel Foucault, whose ideas on biopower and the cultivation and maintenance of docile consumers by governments allied to capitalist interests seem to resonate in harmony with the pranks credo. Giorgio Agamben is another, whose thoughts on the ‘state of exception’, during which normal juridical process is suspended by decree of the sovereign power, illuminate alarming features of the war on terror – arguably a permanent ‘state of exception’ that works very much in favour of the biopolitical agendas of governments. And finally, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, who have delineated the structure for whom war is really just a biopolitical instrument; Empire is a capitalist hegemony that has evolved hand in hand with our western liberal democracies along the global pathways their technologies have forged, and against which pranks represent one crucial form of resistance.

In all but a handful of examples of political mashup currently circulating online, the power to manipulate meaning enjoyed by practitioners is deployed in acrimonious, often abusive ways that speak more of personal catharsis than envisioned peace. They often engage in personal abuse and ultimately attempt to condemn violence from a place entrenched within the same paradigm that embraces violence. My work problematises this tendency, proposing an alternative approach to political mashup that is guided by ideals of non-violence. If – as the philosophers and political scientists cited above would contend – the problem of perpetual war is indicative of paradigmatic cultural/political proclivities, then surely nothing short of paradigm change will suffice to deliver us from the state-legitimated violence we witness daily on the TV news.

To this end I have created an imaginary projection of the character of US President George W Bush. To borrow a term from those exemplary pranksters ‘The Yes Men’, I have ‘corrected’ Bush’s identity by depicting him – through his own words – as someone who has undergone a transformation of character. Through a process of self reflection, Bush experiences deep feelings of regret for the military actions sanctioned by his authority. He expresses remorse and asks for forgiveness, declaring a commitment thereafter to truthful, non-violent action. In this concocted world I am allowed to imagine how it would be if the redeemed Bush were to become an antagonist to other major players in the political arena. By degrees he might even inspire redemptive acts in them.

My intention is to extend an invitation to listeners to imagine. To imagine living in a world in which power can decide to relinquish its conventional methods of self-maintenance: violence, dishonesty, manipulation and coercion. A friend, after listening to the Redemption piece online told me he initially felt excitement at the possibilities for redemption it suggested. This was followed by a deep sadness as he acknowledged the unlikelihood of ever hearing such a confession from one so powerful. I’m asking listeners to imagine a reality which, sadly, defies belief. Bush’s revelations are unimaginable.

This invitation to ‘imagine the unimaginable’ is really an attempt at dislocating a reality – the reality that accepts power’s modus operandi as normality. In trying to contextualise my work I’m finding I am increasingly drawn to locating it within the traditions of cultural activism, more so than within the longer standing traditions of protest music. Hence my attraction to the ethos of pranks.


RogueSounds is the medium through which David Weir is expressing the creative component of his PhD project in music composition.