Simon Stockhausen da SPEECH


A Talk with SIMON STOCKHAUSEN / winter 2003/2004

...about ‘da Speech’ and the Project...


SB: You state on ‘da Speech’ Project website that DA SPEECH was your first politically-driven musical composition. Prior to DE SPEECH, had you used ‘sampling’ of spoken words or speeches in previous compositions?

Simon Stockhausen:
Yes, in a composition called Nights of Fire for small orchestra and tape (1996) which deals with the bombing of cities in World War 2, I included several samples with spoken word from our former German Bundespräsident Mr. Herzog (not the Chancellor), so thinking about it, Nights of Fire was my first composition with political implications. But it didn´t make such a clear political statement, as "da Speech" does, and was much more focused on music. In 1995, during the Yugoslavian war, I started to take samples from the news channels, but I used those samples more as musical textures, not as any sort of statement against or in favor of something. What I meant was that ever since ‘da Speech’ I am much more focused on politics in my music and lost my doubts that we musicians have to engage ourselves and our work in favor of a peaceful and just world, with no bombing maniacs on either side!

SB: Given my American frame of reference to such compositions (that use ‘sampled’ speech from various sources), I am wary of inadvertantly naming possible precursors that might have nothing to do with your work. So, may I ask, what predecessors or existing works would YOU cite as inspiration for ‘da Speech’?

The speeches of Martin Luther King were a great inspiration to me in the last years (I love the rhythm and the melody in his speeches), and when I heard George W. on that day speaking to the congress live on CNN, I was reminded so much of the way Martin Luther used to speak (and that made me sick, because the contents was so terrifying) that I knew: now it´s time to stand up. There are no other musical predecessors which inspired me.

SB: I’m curious to know a bit more about the censorship/censure from your site. How soon after you had posted the MP3 did your internet provider take action, and what kind of communication followed?

On January 13/ 2002, ‘da Speech’ was taken from my MP3 site [see resources]. I received a mail saying that I was abusing the copyright of George W. and the American government by using George´s voice without asking him. Also, the webmaster said that this was a tasteless piece of music where one could hear things like: "Osama Bin Laden kills all american and jews" (what a load of crap!!). The song had been online for about five weeks and luckily several hundred downloads had already been performed. Then they closed down the entire site for about a week, saying they had a technical problem (I guess they checked my other MP3-stuff during that week).

SB: I’d like to ask you about the process of composing ‘da Speech,’ and what that entailed; the creative decisions, components, etc. First, how did you initially approach deconstructing Bush’s speech itself for re-construction into a musical composition?

The thing that struck me first was the rhythm of “u sa ma bin la den -- the e gyp tian is la mic ji had” both have the same 6/8 - groove to them and is goes on with “-- the gi ving of blood - the say ing of pray ers -the ta li ban --” and so on. I also noticed the length of the sentences were structured like bars in a musical piece (the preacher in the end had the same speed and groove like Georgie, I didn´t have to pitch the sample at all it just fitted, also the soldiers in the stadium marched at the same speed - just incredible!).

SB: How did the composition process itself then proceed -- and at what point were you satisfied it was completed? How long did it take to create, beginning to end?

I instantly derived that 6/8 groove from Georgie’s speech and made the musical structure out of it. First programming some drum loops creating the "refrain" out of the syllabels mentioned above, playing synthbass and keyboard sequencer onto it with a simple four-chord structure and a four-chord bridge in a different key, inserting all the things from the speech valuable to me (of course very subjective), then adding my own percussion playing on a big metal flowerpot and asian bells and finally playing my soprano sax on top of everything. Oh man, those were wild days -- I was in my studio for 72 hours with only a few sleeping breaks and then it was done.

SB: Having studied the text of the speech itself, and compared it to ‘da Speech,’ there seems to be a juggling of rhythmic concerns with content: that is, some rather extensive portions of the 9/20 speech are retained essentially due to content -- what is said -- while others are included and manipulated for content but primarily for musical/rhythmic reasons. Could you discuss this matter?

Partially, I´ve answered this already above; I thought it would take "seriousness" out of the matter by treating the speech as a pool for rhythmical samples, like I would sample a rapper and take some of his very cool words and lines to form something new out of it (l don´t usually do that in my music, I did it a few times while working on soundtracks for theatre pieces), without caring about the meaning of it. But of course I was aware that with this shit I was manipulating facts around and when I had done the first montage I liked it.

SB: Bush’s phrase, “the giving of blood,” immediately takes on religious, almost mystical, significance in ‘da Speech,’ wherein the 9/20 speech itself it is presented rather pragmatically, in context of citizens giving blood for rescue purposes. That subtext grows into an increasingly primal, almost occult ‘beat’ throughout ‘da Speech’; it becomes a prayer, in and of itself. Why did you seize on to that phrase, or did it assert itself as such during the sampling and composition process?

Yes, it´s totally out of context -- but -- First: I consider this to be the subtext to Georgie’s words, he is giving the blood of Americans everyday for the fight against terrorism, and in this speech he calls for war, war is blood; Second: it is one of the grooviest phrases in his speech together with "the saying of prayers."

SB: There are many Middle Eastern musical, religious, and vocal ‘samples’ used in ‘da Speech’; my wife recognized the Kaddish toward the end. Could you identify for us some of the pieces you used, and why those particular pieces were used?

All of those sounds were generated during the first big memorial service in the New York Yankee Stadium about two weeks after 9/11. Some of them I used because of their shear beauty, like the Sengalese sikh singing so sadly; others I reversed and shredded to take some realism out of it. The Kaddish has this great sound, I had to use him. To me he sounds like Moses himself. As I don´t speak any of the languages incorporated in the chanting (apart from the short quote of “The Star-Spangled Banner”), the selection was a mere intuitive and musical one. Actually, I created the bridge of the piece in A-minor because that is the main key everybody was singing in! The Shofar I used for obvious reasons, the rhythm it played wasn´t manipulated by me.

SB: I noticed two points in ‘da Speech’ where the juxtaposition of text sampled from the 9/20 Bush speech presented wholly new meanings, either from compression of one sample against another, or in the placing of two portions of the 9/20 speech together in a way that suggested hidden subtexts in Bush’s rhetoric. One was the statement, “America has no truer friend than Great Britain,” in which “the Egyptian Islamic Jihad” almost supplants “Great Britain”. The other meaningful and provocative recontextualization I I noticed are the couplings of “...and you know what?” with “we will rebuild --.” “We will rebuild” is first followed by the repetition of “the Egyptian Islamic Jihad,” which seconds later is reiterated as: “...and you know what?” followed by: “we will rebuild New York City.” The implications -- the Egyptian Islamic Jihad as a “friend,” the actions implicit and explicit in the 9/20 speech would only “rebuild the Egyptian Islamic Jihad” -- are provocative. Could you speak about these elements of ‘da Speech,’ and what perceptions of the 9/20 speech and Bush’s presidency led to your decision to include them?

Well, you´ve understood it all Steve. The willingness of people to wrap a belt packed with TNT around their waste and blowing themselves up to do the Jihad-thing in order to kill Americans, Jews, and so on has certainly risen since that speech, and ever more since the occupation of Iraq. So the effect of this intervention is making the Jihad stronger and stronger. Before Usama bin Laden became an alien to us, he was strongly promoted by the Americans, supplied with heaps of weapons and US-dollars, so there is no truer friend than....

SB: Immediately after the conclusion of the Bush 9/20 line, “No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of ethnic background or religious faith,” you transition into the preacher’s speech, which as you say on the website makes explicit (in overtly Christian terms) “the purpose of this memorial service was evident - war and revenge.” Two questions, then: The first: Do you know who made this speech, and when?

I can´t recall the preachers name (I would have to check the original CNN-video with the coverage of that memorial service in the Yankee Stadium, maybe there is a hint about him). “Harder yet may be the fight and yield may often turn to might wickedness or wild may reign and Satan´s cause may seem to gain there is a God that rules above...” I have no idea who wrote those lines, they sound old.

SB: And secondly: You specifically cite Dr. Martin Luthor King’s speeches as an inspiration to you personally and to ‘da Speech.’ The preacher’s speech in ‘da Speech’ evocatively and deliberately emulates the cadence and delivery of Dr. King’s speeches; in fact, most Americans I’ve listened to your piece with, via viewing John Douglas’ DA SPEECH, immediately assume the preacher’s excerpt is a sample of a Dr. King speech (John tells me one of the videos of ‘da Speech’ explicitly explores this issue, juxtaposing images of Dr. King with other speakers). This makes the content of that speech (“...and if I’m right, then God will fight my battle -- we’ll get through it...”) even more chilling, given its bitter context. I’d like you to comment on this matter as you see fit, and will also ask: ‘da Speech’ makes explicit the implicit religious contexts and connotations of the 9/20 speech, and it is chilling. Would you care to further articulate your feelings about Bush’s insistent religious perspective, and that of so many American speakers that followed in the 9/11 mourning (including that which you used in your composition)?

This preacher here certainly stands in the tradition of Martin Luther, but what he says has nothing to do with the principles of non-violence. He is abusing people´s feelings of grief and sadness, implicating that the Christian God is a God of war, fighting battles against whatever; as subtext, he himself is actually calling for a Jihad against the Muslim world (“God will fight my battle”). So just like George W. himself, he is twisting around Christianity, taking it back many hundred years to a time where it was common to slaughter Muslims (and Jews) in God´s name. George W. to me seems to be some sort of pseudo-religious guy who exchanged his alcoholism against this religous frenzy that helps him to cope with the extreme pressure of his job. The way he speaks of America as God´s own country is so anachronistic I can´t at all understand why American patriots fall for all that shit. I hope to understand it one day.

SB: Amen to that. Now, to switch gears: I want to understand the chronology of ‘da Speech’ in terms of your creative relationship with Toshi Fujiwara, who founded the Project. How did the two of you meet, and what can you tell me about that relationship? Was WALK your first collaborative venture with Toshi Fujiwara?

Well, we met in the net. I traced Toshi down because he had been using some of the music I had composed for the Israeli filmdirector Amos Gitai in the early 90´s without asking me. So I got angry and managed to contact Toshi via Amos´ office in order to say it was "verboten" to use my music without clearing copyrights and stuff. While communicating with him he was getting sympathetic to me, and so I just sent him a copy of ‘da Speech’ (and other music), not expecting him do start this video-project -- but Toshi took action, which made me very happy. Then (as a sort of thank you) I wanted to do a project with him, where the film was there first and the music would enhance the images, and he send me the first cut of WALK which I loved. I find Toshi´s approach to film and arts very radical and thrilling and I hope to collaborate with him a lot in the future.

SB: What work did you do with director Amos Gitai? (His marvelous films are just beginning to reach us in the US, via video and DVD [see endnotes].)

My brother Markus (trumpeter) and I did a series of collaborations with Amos -- music for the films GOLEM: L´ESPRIT DE L’EXIL [GOLEM: SPIRIT OF EXILE, 1991] with Hanna Shygulla, Bernardo Bertolucci, Samuel Fuller, and others; and THE PETRIFIED GARDEN [aka GOLEM: THE PETRIFIED GARDEN, 1993]. See Amos’s website for details [see endnotes]. In the theatre: The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, performed in Venice for the opening of the Biennale June 1993 (out on CD); and Metamorfosi di una Melodia, performed in Gibbelina/Sicily/Italy, August 1992.

SB: Thank you. Could you tell me about WALK? I’ve never seen the film --

The film is about walking people in the Tokyo-Metro. You mainly see legs and feet walking in different speeds and the soundtrack plays with different layers of speed, sounds, speech and singing in many languages - see Toshi´s website for details.

SB: What kind of attention did your composition ‘da Speech’ receive prior to the attempt to suppress it --and what kind of attention, if any, did it receive afterwards, prior to Toshi’s attraction to the piece?

Half the people hated it, because they thought I would give George a platform to utter his shit, and they were not willing to accept that George has got the groove of war speech. The other half loved it because they saw the irony in my piece and thought this was the best way to handle Georgie and his falcons. After it had been taken down, people ordered free copies because the piece was getting a sort of “Verboten”-nimbus to it. I never thought that I would enter the subculture this way!

SB: What impact -- positive or negative -- has ‘da Speech’ had upon your own life and career, apart from the Project?

It made me aware of my possibilities as a musician to influence people´s attitude (politically, philosophically) in certain fields. Also, I learned to let others take control of something that I originated without trying to impose myself on it too much ( John was a help with that point!).

SB: Were you aware of John Douglas’s work before DA SPEECH project brought the two of you together creatively?

No, I had never heard of John before the project.

SB: Given the recent history between Germany and our current President, particularly the tentative but volatile parallels Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin [see endnotes] made between Bush and Adolf Hitler during the election season, I must ask about your initial reaction upon seeing John’s explicit visual juxtaposition of Bush and his circle of associates with Hitler and the Third Reich. This is potent, “loaded” imagery stateside, and it must be even moreso in your country! Many Americans bristled when the news was reported here that, in essence, Chancellor Schroeder had compared Bush to Hitler.

Man, our Chancellor never made a comparison like that, [that’s] classical and dangerous misinformation. One of his female ministers made a silly quote in that direction comparing Rumsfeld to Goebbels, she was sacked a few weeks later! Of course it is a big taboo in Germany to compare somebody with the Third Reich and I got really mad when I first saw the website John had put up for the project, because I felt the comparison was too direct and much too agressive. John later changed the outlook of the site because everybody involved was getting angry. Within John´s film, I can now accept this comparison; he has got a point there because George and the falcons started something there that could lead to a disaster much bigger than any Holocaust we´ve dreamed about and they are using similar means of propaganda and misinformation.

SB: I’ve only seen John’s contribution to ‘da SPEECH Project’ thus far, but noted that his version incorporates new audio as well as visual material from two additional, later sources (Bush’s Message to the Iraqi People from April 10, 2003 and the female newscaster who briefly appears). Did the two of you discuss this adaptation, and did John’s incorporation of this new material work for you?

No we did not discuss this but it was alright for me, because it brought elements of documentary-film into the project and it included information that I didn´t have when writing the piece in September/October of 2001, and so it adds impact on Georgie’s words.

SB: What other contributions to the project have impressed you, and could you briefly describe them for us?

They all impressed me a lot. My personal favourites are Toshi´s second approach, where he shows tourists at ground zero, John´s film, and also Maya´s contribution -- but I like them all.

SB: Are there any plans to showcase ‘da Speech’ project in Europe, particularly in your own country?

Not at the moment -- people here are momentarily very bothered with themselves and their economic situation. The whole topic -- Iraq/the falcons/George -- had been on the news for months and most people don´t want to be bothered anymore; at least that is my impression. But let´s see what happens.

SB: Is the Project continuing to expand? Have there been other filmmakers or video artist gravitating to this collaborative venture?

I´ve lost track a little bit of how many films have been made and what is going to happen next, maybe Toshi knows more about this. I would love to start the next round with a piece about the current state of the Middle East turmoiled by the falcons. I´ve already collected heaps of new samples (mainly sounds from anti-war and anti-American rallies throughout the world) and I´m waiting for some time in my life to put them together.

SB: You’ve made it clear that the 9/20 speech, and the subsequent process of composing ‘da Speech,’ was a political awakening for you as an artist. Where has this led you since, and will this kind of composition -- a politicized ‘rap,’ so to speak -- continue to evolve in your work in the foreseeable future?

I make no plans about this and don´t try to forsee what will happen next, but the impact of “da Speech’ on my friends, the filmmakers, you and others show me that this "art-form" is something to pursue. Certainly it has changed my overall attitude towards politics. I don´t rely anymore on the information offered to me by all the TV stations and I try to be aware of the things said behind the lines.

SB: What is your current project (in any media)?

Right now I am writing a piece for a composition-competition in Dresden sponsored by car maker Volkswagen. I went into the new car factory there some time ago and took samples and now I´m making a piece for twenty musicians out of those sounds. Parallel to that, I am doing the film score for a documentary film about heart attacks and brain strokes -- therefore I am musicalizing heartbeat sounds and the sounds of blood running through the body. After that I will be working for the theatre, and in the spring I then go to Australia to play some gigs with James Morrison and our band On The Edge.

SB: Thanks for taking the time to talk about your work, Simon, and best of luck!