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Friday, 11 March 2005

Cincinnati

            One of the most successful pieces of text-based political music is Paul De Marinis’ Cincinnati.  In this piece, a computerized voice summarizes facts about the meat industry.  It speaks about the killing animals and the blood of those animals.  It starts with the difficulties of slaughterhouse mechanization of animal killing and goes on to the history of different cultures in regards to bleeding a carcass or keeping the blood within it.  The content is entirely factual and delivered in the emotionless voice of a computer.  Near the start, it acknowledges a discomfort.  “Blood terrifies.”  However, it ends with an emotionless set of observations ”The death cries and the mechanical noises are almost impossible to disentangle.  Neither can the eye take in what it sees.  On the one side of the stickers are the living, on the other side, the slaughtered . . . in 20 seconds on the average, the hog is supposed to have bled to death.  It happens so quickly and is so smooth a part of the production process that emotion is barely stirred.”

            What makes this piece so wonderful is the difficulty of understanding the computerized voice.  The listener has to listen closely and struggle for meaning and then when she deciphers it, she is horrified.  The friendly experiencer then dances between willful misunderstanding and grasping for meaning. 

            The lack of emotional content makes this piece almost sinister.  The de-humanized, yet non-mechanized killing of animals is reflected by the flat computer voice.  The goal of this piece is not to outrage or to make everyone become a vegetarian, but to cause people to contemplate the animal slaughter in which they indirectly participate.  The blood terrifies, but the cold semi-mechanization perhaps is more terrifying.

            Adding to the effectiveness of this piece is the track order on the album Music as a Second Language.  Immediately following Cincinnati is another piece The Power of Suggestion, which uses the same computerized voice.  Instead of talking about animal death, the voice goes through a hypnotist script.  Placed over relatively fast dissonant melodies, the voice urges us to completely relax and feel all tension drain from us.  After hearing the same voice describe hanging animals upside down as death takes hold and blood flows from them, my immediate response to hearing that voice telling me to relax is to do the opposite.  I find all my muscles clenching up as the piece purportedly talks about relaxation but seems to actually be describing death.  This may cause listeners to empathetically relate to the experiences of animals in the slaughterhouse.  Much science fiction, like The Matrix, exploits our discomfort with the meat industry and our fear of being subjected to it as a product and not a consumer.  Marinis seems to be tapping into this same meme in the Power of Suggestion.

            While this combination of pieces will probably not cause anyone to foreswear cheeseburgers, it does force people to contemplate the sources of their food.  Awareness is the first step towards change.

This post is not Creative Commons. It is Copyright 2005 Celeste Hutchins All Rights Reserved.

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