Requiem between a barrel and a heart
Additive sound installation and radio broadcast
(instrumental samples and voice recordings on fixed media, FM radio transmitters and transistor radios, yarn, and empty bullets)
infinite duration, 2022
Marco Buongiorno Nardelli
You can listen to a concert stereo version on my SoundCloud
June 17-26, 2022, CURRENTS FESTIVAL 2022: CIRCUITS, Santa Fe, NM
Requiem between a Barrel and a Heart is a testament to the countless lives that are lost every day to weapons, in war zones or in random acts of violence, and recognizes them not through their names, but through the counting of their numbers, as it always happens in times of great catastrophe. The project is based on a process of artistic appropriation and repurposing of guns that are transformed from an instrument of death to an instrument of compassion and healing. Through a gun buy-back program, we acquired 12 guns decommissioned by the Minneapolis Police Department and converted their barrels into wind instruments. These instruments provide the fabric of the installation, giving a sonic gestural background to voices that count these infinite series of numbers. The installation combines the evocative power of the sound of the gun barrel wind instruments within a complex performance framework: it comprises of a multichannel audio system generated and controlled by a python score running on a Raspberry Pi, four active speakers for the performance of the wind instruments background, four FM radio transmitter and 12 battery-powered transistor radios for the broadcast of the voices and other instrumental interludes.
The radios are suspended with 12–14-gauge instrument wire (piano strings or similar) using eye bolts in the ceiling or any ceiling infrastructure that allows suspension of 200g of weight. The strings are then wrapped around the radios like a net and then at the end of the string there is a single high caliber bullet that is attached with an eye hook. The bullets point to the floor as plumb bobs. These are empty bullets with no ammo or explosive materials attached to or embedded in them.
This installation will allow ear level/eye level interaction with the sound sources of the radios, and it will generate a sense of intimacy and intensity due to how they are suspended and how they meet the floor of the exhibition space. This will allow the work to be more cohesive in both the visual form and the auditory content throughout the installation space and time.
The same audio material is simultaneously broadcasted as a radio work: in this, the choice of the radio transmission is both a medium and a metaphor, envisioning a flexible yet resistant and mobile engagement that extends well beyond the walls of the performance hall or broadcasting studio.
Moreover, the installation, and thus the broadcast, is additive, in that visitors to the installation will be invited to contribute to the performance by adding their voices to the mix: by following the QR code below on their mobile phones, participants are directed to a webpage where they will find both text (a count out of an ever-increasing series of numbers) and the performance directions (in simple, non-musical terms). They will then be asked to record their interpretation using any of their audio recorders on their phones and send it to a specific email address. To avoid “contamination” from spurious or faulty recordings, the files will be curated before being added to the general pool. These contributions will be played through the radios and will complement the performance broadcasted through the active speakers, creating a multi-layered, immersive, and ever-changing sound environment that develops as an experiment in cooperative, complexity-motivated musical creation.
Notes on the gun barrel instruments. The project started when I learned about a Gun Buy Back program in Minneapolis called "ART IS MY WEAPON." I acquired 12 gun/rifle parts from the Pillsbury United Communities located in Northeast Minneapolis which were decommissioned by the Minneapolis Police Department. Through conducting research on the acoustics of wind instruments during the next year I started to convert them into wind instruments. This process was done step by step in close coordination with my musician collaborators to ensure the results fit within the premises of the project and in the most minimal way possible.
This decision was made to ensure the instruments would be instantly recognized for what they used to be and not lose their initial and identifying characteristics through the process.
Having grown up in an active war zone (8 years of Iran/Iraq war and Kurdish ethnic cleansing campaign for over a decade in both counties), I learned too early to be resourceful with objects we could salvage. I remember walks with my friends when we would collect bullet shells, gun parts and other parts of killing devices.
We turned them into pen holders, whistles, and other strange objects of the imagination.
We were Kurds, witness to the ends of too many gun barrels because of our identity, our language and culture. With Requiem Between a Barrel and a Heart, I strive to connect my experiences to the gun violence epidemic in the United States to create objects that heal. So far, I have created six wind instruments from the gun barrels I received with extensive fine tuning of these hard to command alloys. The sounds each barrel makes is unique and does not match standard Western notation. Each barrel has a storage case crafted to the size and shape of the actual gun giving viewers a sense of the type of gun each barrel was taken from. I was fascinated with what sounds a gun can make besides "die die die".
Notes on the musical material and composition. This installation embodies my idea of performers and audience as active co-creators of the artistic event. This idea has developed over the years and has now found an evolutionary path in the concept of musical spaces as networks, that has become the foundation of my artistic and music-theoretic research. The term “performer” must be interpreted in the most open way possible. First and foremost, “performer(s)” are co-creators, they can be humans or machines engaged in the production of sound, music, movement, light, video, etc. The “score” is then music score or dance notation, projection mapping or live coding instructions… As such, performers might be musicians or dancers, video artists, autonomous systems, etc. but all must be capable of verbal communication.
The version presented in the installation and radio work Requiem Between a Barrel and a Heart is just one of the potentially infinite realizations of this piece. Here the performers are the radios that broadcast the sounds of the barrel instruments and the recorded voices. However, performers are also the visitors to the installation (the audience) that by recording their voices provide the textural material to the musical result. The performance follows a rigorous electronic score, produced by a generative composition software that mixes the sound material in an infinite combination of possibilities: the score consists of a graph made of an ensemble of nodes connected by directional paths. Each node contains specific information on what sort of gesture the system will perform and once a single graph has been executed, a new graph is generated, making the performance virtually infinite without presenting the same material more than once. Graphs are constructed using a model for the generation of scale-free network: the model incorporates two important general concepts, growth and preferential attachment: growth means that the number of nodes in the network increases over time; preferential attachment means that the more connected a node is, the more likely it is to receive new links. Nodes with a higher degree have a stronger ability to grab links added to the network. The resulting topology is fundamental in the analysis of many real networks, social, biological, technological, etc., and here it is a metaphor of the links that are broken in the interconnected fabric of society every time a weapon makes a new victim.
On the compositional design side, the piece is organized in four choruses and one theater of voices. The first chorus performs the instrumental background, and it is broadcasted by four active speakers placed in the back of the installation space. The chorus is comprised of four voices (SATB) that are doubled in their placement within the sound field. The contrapuntal form combines independent melodic lines to create a stage reminiscent of medieval or renaissance polyphony. The other three choruses each portray episodes characterized by diverse sound gestures: screaming, brassy and multiphonics sounds (chorus 2); airy, soft and breathy sounds (chorus 3); and percussive sounds (chorus 4). Each chorus is featured in episodes that alternate against the backdrop of the polyphonic accompaniment. The theater of voices performs all the voice recordings of the texts. Chorus 2,3,4, and the voices are broadcasted through the transistor radios and sounds are assigned stochastically to 4 different groups (each played simultaneously by 3 radios), thus producing a three-dimensional sound field in the installation space.
Finally, the full performance is mixed down to stereo for further broadcasting. The mix is design to maintain a geometrical arrangement of the sound source that reflects their physical placement in the installation space.
(Marco Buongiorno Nardelli)