Culture Rover

#12 - More Unconventional Conventioneering: WFMU RNC Remix

Not so much a remix as a cauldron of noise meant to out-roar the Republican media washout of New York City culture with its red, white, and blue ooze. WFMU's internet broadcast stream was an attempt to unfurl an alternative sonic universe. It proved to be both utopian and distopian, by turns hopeful and full of fear, a kind of inverse, mirror image of the mainstream proceedings: Fox News in the funhouse.

Cosmic Cowboy starts things off with a version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" that slowly malfunctioned before ultimately segueing into a version of the reggae theme song for the Fox show Cops. A great start, followed by the Cowboy's story, told in a voice echoing with disembodied reverb yet friendly and immediate, of being arrested in the Critical Mass bicycle rally.

The Big City Orchestra began their turn with a distorted electric guitar howl that sounded like an elephant trumpeting its stampede arrival. Riding over the music was a remix of various Bush speeches that migrated between incoherent and arrogant -- precisely the mixture that Bush manipulates to wield rhetorical power. Then a children's song, "Follow the Leader," appeared, a perfect comment on the infantilization of the citizen by this administration. The broadcast eventually accumulated Bush excerpts and musical background into a general mood of paranoia -- a pitch-perfect parody of the kind of public discourse Bush's administration and the Republicans have promulgated.

On the other side of the barricade, DJ Bethany followed the protesters' proceedings later that night -- the first Sunday night of the convention -- with a field recording of Pauline Oliveros' Ringout at the World Trade Center site, captured on the previous day. Voices float by in the mix --commenting, laughing, flirting, chanting -- above a steady sizzle of sleigh bells and the occasional regal flare of a larger gong or tolling bell. "If you're ringing, you're supposed to be over here," a man says. "Please stay on this side of the barricades," a female organizer nervously insists. "Are you from New York?" someone asks. A dog barks, piercing the celestial rings of the orchestra. Then we keep pace with a woozy, drunken Dixieland parade band making its way up toward Madison Square Garden. It stumbles and mumbles its way along, then changes into a powerful marching band drum rhythm. Suddenly, we're at a college football Saturday afternoon transformed into rooting for families in poverty instead of guys in helmets. Chants and cheers, cheerleaders for welfare and jeers at the RNC.

And so on throughout the week: Mad magazine couldn't have done it better. A number of the most amazing segments were nightly audio remixes meant to be played along with PBS's coverage of RNC speeches, especially the "Alternative Coronation" soundtrack to Bush's acceptance speech. Also: a fabulously bizarre interactive call-in show hosted by a facsimile voice of Homer Simpson and with the facsimile guest voice of George W. Bush culled from manipulated snippets of audio; a broadcast of "FCC Indecency Rules: A Filthy Music Review," featuring songs and comedy that have earned the biggest fines from FCC; politically-tinged punk from the Reagan/Bush Sr. years; contemporary political hip-hop; patriotic and political music from the 1920s on the "Antique Radio Hour"; and overnight, the "Robot of Love," an Ipod on random shuffle, spinning humorous propaganda music.

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