Chain of Command
Xylosynth and Sampler (2008)
I was asked by percussionist Joby Burgess to write music for his new Xylothsynth, a sort of electronic sampling marimba.
Much of my music I think of as ‘abstract’. Although I am interested in musics which explore narrative or extra-musical links, I often feel the inclusion of these aspects can cover an inherent weakness in the intra-musical decision making. So I thought it was high time I probed this further to see if I fell into the same traps.
Often the human element of music making is less apparent in electronic music performance. I was keen to retain it and make it fundamental to the sound. So, rather than use the infinte plethora of possible sound sources available, I based the entire work on human speech. This was immediately going to be tricky for me as vocal sounds come with the legacy of daily communication and that extra ‘meaning’. So I thought I might as well use that aspect in as structured a way as I could. I chose text laden with meaning.
I used speeches from George Bush on Guantanamo and the Iraq war, alongside a Donald Rumsfeld speech from the enquiry into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. I took individual syllables, chopped up, and assigned them to the bars of the xylosynth. At this point their original semantic context had been dislocated. Over the course of the piece I gradually rebuilt them back into words and then phrases, re-inserting some of their original meaning and of course in doing this layering new meaning on to these sounds.
I wanted to create a direct and no-nonsense sort of piece that would resonate with the subject matter. I also wanted to acknowledge the fact that ‘music’, with all its potential for creativity, had recently been used as an instrument of torture by being constantly looped at high volume, 24 hours a day at Guantanamo.