September 11th and Its Aftermath

Saturday, April 14, 1:00pm
Geiringer Hall
Emma Levine, chair

"Sampling Sorrow: The Recontextualization of Popular Music in the Wake of Tragedy"

Brian Wright, Music
University of Nevada

On April 19th, 1995 a truck bomb exploded in Oklahoma City killing 167 people and injuring 684 more. Soon after, a local radio station released a remix of Live's recent hit "Lightning Crashes" which incorporated sampled news broadcasts and on-the-ground interviews discussing the tragedy. On September 11th, 2001 a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center killed 2,606 people. Soon after that, a "World Trade Center Remix" of Bruce Springsteen's 1984 hit "Born in the U.S.A." was released which prominently sampled the voices of President George W. Bush and others touting America's resolve. As the two deadliest terrorist attacks ever perpetrated on American soil, both of these tragedies left an indelible scar on the American psyche. This paper examines the remixes released in the aftermath of these events. Both songs were well known prior to the attacks and in each remixed version the original recordings remain intact, with multiple voices merely sampled on top of them. The added voices include both descriptive commentary and sounds of mourning, and their inclusion significantly alters the original meaning of each song. The excess of lurid detail and lack of a clear purpose have led detractors to describe them as "jingoistic," "creepy," "emotionally manipulative," and so forth. However, I see these songs as a sincere attempt to cope publicly with unprecedented grief on a national scale. Their inherent strangeness is, in fact, simply an expression of shock in the wake of unfathomable tragedy. Expanding upon the work of Joseph Auner and Bryan Garman, this paper will examine how, by recontextualizing songs rooted in the American consciousness, the use of sampling in these songs served as a tool for coping with a nationwide sense of lament.

"Septation: An Eye-Witness (Re)Composition of the September 11 Attacks"

Josh Weinstein, Integrative Studies
University of California, San Diego

The events of September 11, 2001, are now as iconic as the World Trade Center Towers themselves. Even in the moment, those of us present during the attacks knew that what we were seeing was important, seminal, and historic. They also represent the type of "single-blow" trauma that is most difficult for victims to effectively process, leaving them "stuck" in the moment of attack.

Septation, a five-movement multimedia work for eleven instruments with prerecorded audio and video, is an artistic revisiting of my own experience of the September 11 attacks. The piece is designed to convey such emotional elements of the lived experience as constriction and claustrophobia, disorientation, surprise, powerlessness, felt terror, transformation, and lost innocence. Septation achieves this through a combination of fully composed music; guided solo and ensemble improvisation (involving a variety of pitch, noise and conceptual resources); prepared, spatialized and processed instruments; found-sound audio; and symbolic video elements.

In addition to a detailed exploration of the compositional strategies employed in Septation, the paper argues that the public record of an event of explicit terrorism must convey felt terror and other emotional elements of the lived experience to be complete. Further, it argues that, for a variety of reasons, the nexus of composed and improvised music may be best suited to this task. In composing and presenting Septation, I exorcised some of the lingering demons of this single-blow event in ways that I hope can provide a compelling example for other victims of single-blow trauma.

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