The Only Thing We Have to Fear…is Sound

Artist Statement
Using what I learned from my sound/narrative proto-project, I attempted to recreate the messages within the first few lines of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural address, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” I used sounds associated with fear and gave my piece a modern context through the use of sound bites from major events since the turn of the century. I originally intended to use Trevor Wishart’s exploration of sonic metaphor and create FDR’s message in that style, but I learned that sonic metaphor is too abstract and difficult for me at this point. Instead of using sonic metaphor, I was inspired to weave together sound bites and reorganize a clip from FDR’s speech. I hope I have created a powerful yet saddening sonic portrayal of the strife our country has recently faced.

I used reaper (and spear sometimes) to combine my tracks. The tracks I chose to include are FDR’s speech, a 9-1-1 call, screams, Ferguson-based riot, people chattering, sirens, tornado warnings, a Sandy Hook broadcast, someone’s recording from 9/11, an ambulance’s siren, Eric Garner saying “I can’t breathe,” and the song “Clouds” by Zach Sobiech. I thought all of these were examples of instances that incited fear within people. “Clouds” has a happier sound to it but, although it is a beautiful song, Zach wrote it for his girlfriend as he was dying of cancer. Zach was able to put hope in a sad situation and I hope my inclusion of his song serves to add a layer of hope to the rest of my track.

Here is a snapshot of my project in reaper.
sound art final pic


One thought on “The Only Thing We Have to Fear…is Sound

  1. Hi Emily,

    You have created a powerful project here. The juxtaposition of the relatively upbeat song and the recurring motif of FDR’s speech create a powerful backdrop to the other soundbites you have chosen to incorporate. Finding out the context in which the song was written changes the piece pretty dramatically. I suspect everyone who listens will have a slightly different emotional response to the collage of found sounds you have created. This is a sign of a successful project — you have left enough room and ambiguity that each listener can make the piece their own. I found the piece to be quite sad, and not only because of the topics covered in the soundbites, but because of the way in which you chose to juxtapose these sounds.

    That said, it is very important that you not use these materials lightly. In incorporating sonic materials from real tragedies, you are taking on a huge responsibility, both to your audience and to those who suffered in these tragedies. Because of the upbeat song, at some points the piece took on a bit of a feeling of a sonic montage of ‘greatest hits’ which is particularly disturbing given the gravity of the events you have incorporated. On the other hand, that this is disturbing is not necessarily a bad thing–these are all disturbing events and it is far too easy, in our 24 hour news cycle for us to forget these tragedies as we move on to the next thing.

    In general, some of the screaming stands out as perhaps a bit too literal in this piece, for my taste. This is a small detail, however. Overall, the work struck me as a successful exploration of contemporary events alongside a pertinent historical reference. It is uncomfortable in a most successful way.

    Great work, Emily.


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