The first pundit that I downloaded was Rush Limbaugh. His voice is not polished, but he's been current for many years and is unfortunately not likely to go away soon. I downloaded some audio files from Media Matters. His comments were what I was seeking, but I wasn't sure what to do with them. I tried looping them in quick succession, so that the same file would start to play and then another copy of it would start to play only a few milliseconds later and then another one a few milliseconds after that, until there was a dense texture. This made a nice sound, something like a washing machine. I wanted to call it Spin Cycle. This technique seemed similar to Steve Reich's audio loops in pieces such as It’s Gonna Rain. However, the dense texture obscured Limbaugh’s words. I feel that the content of Limbaugh's speech is fundamental to exploring his meaning and the seductive lies of the right wing. However, all meaning was quickly lost by my looping and the text was totally obscured.
I gave up on Limbaugh and moved on to create Coulter Shock, returning to Limbaugh when I could no longer stand Coulter.
Rush to Excuse
My Ann Coulter piece had a proposed third section that I did not complete. This section was going to find the pitches of all the short grains of vocal sound that made up the last part of the piece. I used the program I wrote for that instead with a clip of Limbaugh mocking, downplaying and sometimes praising the torture of prisoners at American-run Abu Graib prison in Iraq. His statements were outrageously offensive and included imitating the barking of the dogs used to terrorize and bite prisoners, calling officers "orrifcers", etc.
I had an idea that I would play equally-sized short grains of text in a loop while computing their pitch material. As the pitch of a grain became known, a pitched sound would replace the original audio content. Then, after all the pitches were known, the program would then progressively “forget” pitch content until the grains returned to their original text state. Meanwhile, like in the second half of my Coulter piece, I would gradually reshuffle the order of the grains. My experiments with these methods were unsatisfying.
Then, while I was working on it, Alvin Lucier played Paul De Marinis’ work Odd Evening for his composition seminar class. I told the class that Marinis had already written the piece I was trying to write and had gotten better than I was going to. Alvin told me to write the piece anyway, so I carried on.
I noticed that shuffling the grains made their meaning disappear too quickly, so I mixed them with longer phrases, which were automatically discovered, just as in Coulter Shock. I decided to change the grain length on each pass through the loop. I think this is a good compromise between the musical interest of hearing the pitch of spoken voice and political interest of hearing content. Also, like with Bush’s speech, the repetition of phrases makes their meaning more evident.
The speech starts with an introduction of the just the pitches of the last 20 grains of the clip. Then it plays all the grains of the clip, in order, with both the pitch and the text material. I then scramble the grains and play them back mixed up with some longer phrases from the start of the clip. Then I double the size of the grains and again play them back in random order with pitch and voice, intermixed with longer phrases that come from a bit further into the clip. I repeat this process until the grains are long enough that words like “fear” can be clearly heard. The piece ends with Rush’s mocking question, “Is that allowed in the Geneva Conventions?”
I have submitted this piece to numerous festivals, but it was rejected. Surprisingly, Limbaugh’s comments failed to generate much controversy just as systematic torture of prisoners failed to be reported outside of the Pacifica Network and the left wing blogosphere. I worried the piece would slip into irrelevance before anyone ever heard it. I posted a realization of it, my Coulter piece and my Bush State of the Union piece to my website under a Creative Commons license that makes it possible for people to download, share, commercially use and remix the piece as long as they include attribution. The commercial value of these pieces to me is near negligible, especially as the controversies fade into the forgotten past. I would rather have people hear them than not hear them. Unfortunately, I have not had time to adequately promote my downloads. A log search shows that it has been downloaded by one person unknown to me in the United States and one in Britain. As far as I know, it has never before been performed in public. In the future, I want to launch a podcast of my music, which I hope will garner more listeners.
This post is not Creative Commons. It is Copyright 2005 Celeste Hutchins. All rights reserved.
My thesis is so strange
Tag: Rush Limbaugh