Manifesta Journal

Aural Contract is a project that is constituted by a series of events, publications, exhibitions, compositions and workshops that examine the contemporary politics of listening through a focus on the role of the voice in law. Throughout the project I have built up a sound archive, containing audio extracts of my works together with specific moments of juridical listening and speaking gathered from a wide range of sources such as the trials of Saddam Hussein and Judas Priest, UK police evidence tapes, films such as Decoder and readings from texts including Italo Calvino’s “A King Listens”The components of this archive are then mixed together, generating audio documentaries and narrative compositions that immerse its audience in the heart of a discussion about the relationship of listening to politics, borders, human rights, testimony, truth and international law.

For Manifesta Journal, I have put together a selection of tracks from the Aural Contract Audio Archive to provide an audio analysis of the vocal manipulations and distortions that occur in the two political-juridical forums that buttress the war in Iraq. Here, both Colin Powell’s 2003 “Speech at the UN” and the “Trial of Saddam Hussein”, are examples of the contemporary role of audio as a weapon of war.

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Part 1: Colin Powell’s Sound Evidence

Part 2: Sonic War-Farce

Part 3: The Chipmunk in the Court of Saddam

In March 2003, whilst he was secretary of state, Colin Powell gave a notorious speech at the United Nations Security Council in which he made the case for war in Iraq. The two heavily distorted audio recordings he played to kick start his warmongering torrent of “evidence” speak clearly about the speech as a whole. The contrast of Powell’s amplified address through the audio infrastructure of the UN security council, with the raw crackles of an intercepted walkie-talkie exchange readily reveals who dictates the right to speak and who controls the capacity to hear in such forums. It is in his hybrid role of secretary of state and voice-over artist that Powell is able to both legitimise and initiate the war.

In October 2005, Saddam Hussein’s trial began. Pitch shifting and other voice effects were used throught the trial to disguise the witnesses who testified in defense of Hussein. By aurally zooming into the use of voice manipulation, a set of political intentions can be discerned. Standardized for a long time now by the BBC in addition to other media channels is the voice-disguise technique that pitches down voices in an effort to preserve their anonymity. In Saddam Hussein’s trial, the voices are pitched up to the level of “chipmunk”, an effect that infantilises its witnesses. These absurd and puerile voices allow the court to perform the ascendency of the nation into its “democratic” adulthood while at the same time ordering the death of its father.

These two examples complicate the conventions of sonic warfare: from sound canons and Metallica songs to that of complex audio manipulation and vocal destruction in sites where speech acts. Hence this audio composition gathers together and processes a set of archival materials that testify to the role of listening and voice in both the destruction of nations and the reconstruction of political realities.