Of Guns and Drums

August 16th, 2014




























Of guns, and drums, and wounds—God save the mark!—

And telling me the sovereignest thing on earth

Was parmacety for an inward bruise,

And that it was great pity, so it was,

This villanous saltpeter should be digged

Out of the bowels of the harmless earth,

Which many a good tall fellow had destroyed

So cowardly,


Henry IV, William Shakespeare



Though burnt, cut, and smashed, these reclaimed guns from the New Orleans Police Department possess a potential power. Covered in soot and oil, heavy to hold, mute, they have a “sinister resonance”, to borrow a phrase from writer David Toop. We are caught between the last echo of their discharge and eternity, an echo away from the startling moment a gun is fired.


So what to do with these accursed objects? How do we cleave this “confiscated evidence” from the crimes that they have been used to commit?


I think of a famous photograph, Bernie Boston’s “Flower Power”, which depicts a hippie placing carnations in the gun barrels of military policemen during a 1967 anti-Vietnam protest at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.. The act of adorning the guns with flowers symbolically strips the MP’s power to intimidate.


As an artist, I traffic in sound and imagery. As a musician, I am always concerned with evoking meaning through music.

As sound effects for films, drums and percussion have often been used by Foley Stage artists to represent the sounds of war. A snare drum might be used to enhance the sound of a machine gun, a de-tuned kettle drum an explosion.


In a lecture on editing sound for film, Oscar winner Walter Murch(Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, Cold Mountain) says, “You think about it, every language is basically a code, with its own particular set of rules. You have to understand those rules in order to break open the husk of language and extract whatever meaning is inside…Sound, in this case, is acting simply as a vehicle with which to deliver the code…Music, however, is completely different: it is sound experienced directly, without any code intervening between you and it. Naked. Whatever meaning there is in a piece of music is ‘embodied’ in the sound itself.”


Instead of flowers, I place drum mallets into the barrels of guns, with the hope that by repurposing them as musical instruments, I can is some way channel the echo from when the guns were fired into something constructive, something creative.


As drum and bugle corps throughout history have led soldiers to battle, the trope “drums of war” has been in use from Greece to the Civil War to Syria. What of turning weapons into musical instruments instead of ploughshares? Can we imagine these symbols of violence as instruments of music and by doing so imagine peace?



Comments are closed.