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Exploring the traditions of military drumming as a form of signaling and communication, I began to look at how messages about war in our own time are shared and/or withheld. I learned in my research that prior to army ambulances in 1850, it was the musicians who collected the wounded and corpses from the battlefield. Those least responsible for the violence were the ones most intimately acquainted with its effects. The snare drum part is based on speech rhythms and military drumming technique. The ubiquitous plastic bag symbolizes both our disregard for oil and natural resources as well as a miniature body bag. With the bag over his head, the percussionist evokes the treatment of POW’s in Iraq as well as the temptation to turn a blind eye to unsavoury truths. With the bag tucked into his shirt, his belly becomes a tiny snare drum, the musician’s body becoming his instrument. Barbara Bush’s comments during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 show both distaste for the sensationalism of wartime journalism and a desire to remain ignorant of suffering. Roosevelt’s gem concerning the manipulation of the truth is delivered through a process of extreme musical and textual repetition by the performer. I hope that Saint John’s words cut to the heart of the matter: in facing the truth, no matter how ugly or repugnant, we find our liberation.
Commissioned by Morris Palter with funding from the Toronto Arts Council
Three quotations from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Barbara Bush and Saint John the Apostle.