"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.
These short, single take videos offer a hypnotic counterpoint to the brutality of their subject matter. Eerily peaceful, dreamy, and at the same time unsettling and ominous, the vast open spaces of the sky introduce a sense of ghostly, larger-than-life presence. Speaking the language of austere directness, the films for "Songs From Above" function as simple statements of fact, quietly seducing us into the cryptic poetry of terror.
For lyrics translations, additional information, and sound file downloads please see the SFA Sound and Resources Project Page.