Arts / Media

Hear snippets of BAM’s Chelsea Manning-inspired oratorio

One of the biggest leaks in foreign policy history becomes a multimedia experience at BAM.

BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House. (Photo by Flickr user Jeffrey Bary, used under a Creative Commons license)

When she was known as Bradley Manning, Chelsea Manning released to WikiLeaks a gigantic trove of secret documents about U.S. military activity overseas.

Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing the classified information. Since then, BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) recently showed a multimedia piece driven by the documents Manning leaked, called The Source.

From BAM:

Material for The Source (Oct 22-25, BAM Fisher) was drawn from primary source texts by librettist Mark Doten and set to music by composer Ted Hearne. Four singers housed in a visual and sonic installation bring the work to life with direction by Daniel Fish. The company inhabits a multimedia assemblage of Twitter feeds, cable news reports, court testimonies, and chat transcripts in a multimedia oratorio that investigates media hysteria, secrets, and identity amid digital chaos. Mark Doten provides context for excerpts from his libretto.

Listen to some samples from the performance here:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/55866888″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

Excerpts from the transcript are sung, usually by multiple voices. While a part of the point here is to disseminate the information, at least from the recordings, listeners will find themselves pretty low on context, even when they can make out the words.

Some additional context can be found here, on BAM’s Facebook page, in some annotations of documents used to produce some of the music.

That said, the point probably isn’t to exactly spell it all out so much as it is to engage listeners with some of the content. The piece that’s easiest to follow is “Criminal Event.” A number of violent incidents or the aftermath of violent incidents are described, which should be enough, at least, to hold a listener’s attention.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/173051043″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

One of the collaborators, Daniel Fish, spoke to the objectives of the piece in an interview on the BAM blog:

But there’s a real tension there, or a risk because I want people to be engaged and I want them to be challenged. In the end, I want the audience’s experience to be a good experience. I love what David Lynch said before a screening of one of his films—he didn’t say “I hope you like it,” or “I hope you enjoy yourselves,” he said, “I hope you have a good experience.” And that can mean many different things, but I think that’s my hope.

Fish directed the overall performance and contributed a video component to the piece, which he made with Jim Findlay. It’s a selection of videos of normal people watching graphic videos. Much of the narrative of the Manning story was less about the content of what she released and more about the drama of its principal characters.

Series: Brooklyn

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