heidi j. boisvert




At the close of her book, Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag asks the reader: “Why should they [soldiers and civilian victims of war] seek our gaze? What would they have to say to us?” (Sontag, 125). This “we” to whom she refers is everyone who has never experienced anything like what “they” went through. She continues, “[w]e don’t get it. We truly can’t imagine what it was like. We can’t imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is, and how normal it becomes. War tears, rends. War rips open, eviscerates. War scorches. War dismembers. War ruins.” (Sontag, 8).

sonicWarfare is an attempt to blur the experiential gap between the “we” and “they,” which Sontag outlines above, by forcing the “we,” in this instance, the listener, to sonically, and psychologically, experience, albeit asymptotically, the violent devastation which the “they” might face through a simulated soundwalk from 42nd Street to Central Park along 5th Avenue of an invented, non-descript war on American soil.

Protest in Vietnam was mobilized by images, but today images of war barbarity do not pose the same disgust, disquiet. We have become inured by the spectacle of violence paraded on TV and in movies. Why though when you see war reportage on the news are we not forced to endure the sounds of war? Is it harder to bear the pain of others through our ears, than our over-privileged and distancing eyes? Could protest for the current war in Iraq then be more effectively mobilized by forcing citizens to listen to, to inhabit, the destructive noise and resonant cries of war, a force, which like the sirens in Ulysses, will prove difficult to resist?

sonicWarfare seeks to address these questions and to suggest an alternate tool for instigating an active, personal response to the brutality caused by the war.

The listener will be given a CD player (or ipod), headphones, and a military-map, which details key targets from 42nd Street to Central Park (42nd Street subway station, ABC, Fox News, CNN et al). On top of the actual map will be a thin-carbon layer with another map of downtown Baghdad, which outlines the initial route taken by U.S. troops when soldiers invaded in March of 2002. Oddly enough the route parallels the walk from 42nd Street, up 5th Avenue into Central Park at the corner of 59th Street. The listener will also be directed to begin this immersive sonic experience at the main entrance to the 42nd Street subway station where there is a high amount of civilian traffic and commercialism.

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