Songs From Above : Sound Leaflet Series

Audio Files

anytime : 01
leave : 02
choice : 03
time : 04
posture : 05
warning : 06
breath : 07
flag : 08
beginning : 09
think : 10
forgotten : 11
truth : 12
brothers : 13
honor : 14
home : 15
death : 16
everything : 17
who : 18
blood : 19
if : 20
All songs in the "Songs From Above" cycle were written,
performed and produced by the Labor Camp Orchestra.
Arabic and English lyrics for each song are based on
authentic leaflets deployed by CENTCOM (Central Command)
during the Gulf War, and by coalition forces during
Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Millions of leaflets such as these were dropped from
aircraft flying over target locations in Iraq.
Additional textual elements (tracks 17, 19) come from
John Cage's "Empty Words, Part III" lecture.
Archival recording from a video shot in Iraq during
Operation Iraqi Freedom was used in track 20.

All instruments and voices by the Labor Camp Orchestra except:

Arabic voice on all tracks by A.Z.
Additional voice by Pamela Johnson (tracks 10, 11, 12, 17, 20)
Empty Words recitation by George Rosar (track 19)

About This Project

"Songs From Above" is a series of 20 short songs based on texts of American leaflets deployed during two conflicts in Iraq: the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Leaflet as a format, concept and an object have been important presence in my work for nearly two decades. I have designed multiple leaflets as stand-alone artworks, as part of specific events, but also used historical leaflet materials as resources for projects developed in other media (paintings, murals, interactive installations and performance works). "Songs From Above" continues the exploration of this unique format of sinister communication.

In an effort to shape each song as a kind of sonic leaflet, the duration of all pieces (except Track 20) is kept under one minute. This dramatic format underscores the urgency of content and its inherent utilitarian character. "Songs From Above" song cycle is aimed predominantly at a Western audience, yet it deliberately maintains the majority of lyrics in the original Arabic. A new quality emerges from the cultural re-deployment of these messages. Altering the context allows these texts to reverberate in a new way, while suggesting a more critical look at the limits of our understanding of these (and all) wars. Occasional English translations highlight the amazing combination of grotesque poetics with raw manipulativeness so characteristic of the leaflet format.
Fragments of John Cage's "Empty Words, Part III" lecture are also invoked in two songs (tracks 17, 19). Pairing of the actual military texts with Cage's experimental attempt at "demilitarizing English language" provocatively blurs multiple boundaries: between the languages, cultures, meaning and abstraction, high art and crude utility of propaganda.

Source Leaflet Designs and Lyrics Translations

Fig. 01 : Anytime :

Translation :

Coalition Air Power can strike at will.
Any time, Any place.
Coalition air power enforces the No-Fly Zones to protect Iraqi people.
Threatening these Coalition aircraft has a consequence.
The attacks may destroy you or any location of Coalition choosing.
Will it be you or your brother?
You decide.

Fig. 02 : Leave :

Translation :

Do not risk your life,
And the lives of your comrades!
Leave now and go home.
Watch your children
Learn, grow and prosper.
You decide.

Fig. 03 : Choice :

Translation :

Leave your equipment,
Or defend it and die.
The choice is yours.

Fig. 04 : Time :

Translation :

It's too late!
Your time is up!

Fig. 05 : Posture :

Translation :

Take an offensive posture and you will be destroyed.
Do not take an offensive posture and you will not be destroyed.

Fig. 06 : Warning :

Translation :

This location will be bombed.
Leave your equipment and save yourselves.

Fig. 07 : Breath :

Translation :

I crossed the shore of the Shatt al-Arab as you wished,
and I kept you on my head.
With every attack I felt death at the door,
and I feel that I am at my last breath,
and I sigh deeply.

Fig. 08 : Flag :

Translation :

Raise the white flag!
Flee immediately!!!
(Only first and last line were used in the song.)

Fig. 09 : Beginning :

Translation :

This is only the beginning!
This could have been a real bomb.
We have no desire to harm innocent people,
but Saddam is leading you to certain death and destruction.
We want you to know the truth!
Saddam is the cause.
Yes, the Multi-National Forces have the ability
to strike anywhere, and anytime.

Fig. 10 : Think :

Translation :

Did you think of your future?
Did you think of your father and of your mother?
Did you think of your wife who is waiting for you?
Did you think of your kids who cried day and night
and their love for you to return in good health?
Did you think of your family?
Think on your own and take action,
before it is too late...

Fig. 11 : Forgotten :

Translation :

Do you remember your brother being killed, and you cried a lot?
Where is he now?
Do you want to be forgotten?
Anticipating death is worse than death itself!

Fig. 12 : Truth :

Translation :

The Truth.
What are you waiting for?
(Only the first line was used in the song.)

Fig. 13 : Brothers :

Translation :

We are all brothers.
Neighbor Arabs.
We want peace.

Fig. 14 : Honor :

Translation :

Honor will never be regained,
no matter what the cost is.

Fig. 15 : Home :

Translation :

For your safety,
Return to your homes
and live in peace.

Fig. 16 : Death :

Translation :

Staying here means death.

Fig. 17 : Everything :

Translation :

We can see everything.
(Only the first line was used in the song.)

Fig. 18 : Who :

Translation :

He lives in splendor,
As your family struggles to survive.
Who needs you more?

Fig. 19 : Blood :

Translation :

It is not easy to wash the hands
which are stained with the blood
of innocent Arabs.

Fig. 20 : If :

Translation :

You decide.

Additional Materials

Series of 19 short films based on "Songs From Above" song cycle.
Text about "IF/THEN" Projects
Leaflet designs for the "IF/THEN: You Decide"
Leaflet designs for the "IF/THEN: Honor Will Never Be Regained"
Labor Camp Message Force Multiplier Instruments

Labor Camp : Songs From Above Spade

Labor Camp Orchestra © 2011