This piece began as a way of exploring the tensions between my growing Christian faith and my love for extreme metal music. How could I reconcile the two, seeing as heavy metal music in general has a long history of being very anti-religion, if not satanic.
I was inspired to base my work around Napalm Death’s You Suffer after coming across artist Mark Beasley’s WBPR08, Hey Hey Glossolalia/True Mirror (after Napalm Death, “You Suffer”, 1988, 1.316 sec., N. Bullen/J. Broadrick): an MP3 file consisting of a reading of the 11-page Whitney Biennial 2008 press release compressed to 1.316 seconds.
Napalm Death are credited with defining the grindcore genre through their blend of hardcore punk and metal musical structures, aggressive playing, fast tempos and deep, guttural vocals, and their song You Suffer has earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the shortest recorded song ever. It is precisely 1.316 seconds long and consists entirely of the lyrics “You suffer, but why?”
I began by looking through the King James Version of The Bible for verses on suffering, and, for fairly obvious reasons, Lamentations 5:13 immediately caught my eye: “They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood.”
A lament or lamentation is a song, poem or piece of music expressing grief, regret or mourning, and the Book of Lamentations is a poetic book of the Old Testament that mourns the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple in the 6th century BC. In The Lament and the Rhetoric of the Sublime, Linda M. Austin explains how “lamentation evokes “a voice crying” by formulating, as much as a linguistic medium can, the noise of trauma” (1998, p.279). She describes it as “traumatic language: it sounds spontaneous and involuntary; it is meant to exhibit a mind and body temporarily out of control” (1998, p.285). In an interview for ArtReview, founder member Nicholas Bullen had this to say about Napalm Death’s most infamous track: “You Suffer is perhaps inarticulate but that’s because it’s an expression of true emotion that manifests itself as a sort of automatic speech” (Bullen to Allsop, 2008, p.60).
Taking inspiration from the Mark Beasley piece, I came across a particularly overwrought twenty-minute plus reading of all five chapters of the King James Version of the Book of Lamentations by the American voice actor Max McLean and, using ProTools, compressed it down to 1.316 seconds. Then, in homage to John Peel, the Radio 1 DJ who did much to champion the band, I emulated The Peel Sessions version of Napalm Death’s You Suffer (You Suffer, Pt.2) by blasting the resultant audio file through a distorted amplifier and bathing it in a cathedral-like reverb.
While pleased with the sonic outcome of The Lamentations of Jeremiah/You Suffer Pt.2, on reflection I felt that it was too close to Mark Beasley’s work in its implementation.
Taking fresh inspiration from media artist Mitchell Whitelaw’s writings on the practice of “data-bending” (2004), I decided that a more original approach would be to convert one of the books of The Bible into a plain text file, and import it as raw data into a sound editor at such a rate that the resulting audio file would be precisely 1.316 seconds long.
For this new piece, I decided to go with the Book of Job, possibly one of the most famous books about suffering in the entire world. It relates the story of Job: his trial at the hands of Satan, his discussions with friends on the origins and nature of his suffering, his challenge to God and finally a response from God. An oft-asked question in the Book of Job is “Why do the righteous suffer?”
After much trial and error, I discovered that importing a plain text file of all 42 chapters of the King James Version of the Book of Job as raw data into a sound editor (in this case Audacity) at a rate of 80150 Hz produced an audio file of the required length: precisely 1.316 seconds long.
In April, nine of my fellow students and I decided to organise a small group show, Gwaith Sŵn, at the Arbeit gallery in Hackney Wick as a way of testing installations and trying out ideas in the run up to our final presentations. I wanted to include this new piece, now entitled The Book of Job/You Suffer, in the show, but how would I present it in a gallery space? As the sound element was basically a 1.316 second blast of “the noise of trauma” (Austin, 1998, p.279), I felt that it was important to explain the ideas and the process behind the work, so I decided to include the programme notes as an integral part of the piece. Discovering a source of plain white re-recordable audio greeting cards on eBay led me to presenting the work at Arbeit as a sort of religious pamphlet, which, when opened, played the piece back.
The Book of Job/You Suffer is to be shown again in October as part of the Cambridge-based exhibition art:language:location. The organisers are interested in presenting it as a performance, so in the next few months I will be fully exploring the various ways this can be achieved.
Allsop, L., 2008. Nicholas Bullen. ArtReview, September, 25, pp.60-61.
Austin, L., 1998. The lament and the rhetoric of the sublime. Nineteenth-Century Literature, December, 53(3), pp.279-306.
Beasley, M., 2008. WBPR08, Hey Hey Glossolalia/True Mirror (after Napalm Death, “You Suffer”, 1988, 1.316 sec., N. Bullen/J. Broadrick), Dexter Sinister. [online] 23 March 2008. Available at: <http://www.sinisterdexter.org/index.html?id=38> [Accessed 8 May 2013].
The Bible: King James Version, 2011. London: HarperCollins.
The Bible: New International Version, 2011. Colorado Springs: Biblica.
Bullen, N., 2008. Resisting language (the silenced voice). [pdf] Available at: <http://www.sinisterdexter.org/MEDIA/PDF/WBPR08.pdf> [Accessed 8 May 2013].
McLean, M., 2013. The listener’s Bible: narrated by Max McLean. [online] Available at: <http://www.listenersbible.com/> [Accessed 9 May 2013].
Napalm Death, 1989. The Peel Sessions. [vinyl] London: Strange Fruit.
Napalm Death, 1987. Scum. [vinyl] Nottingham: Earache.
Whitelaw, M., 2004. Hearing pure data: aesthetics and ideals of data-sound. [pdf] Available at: <http://www.glennbach.com/ai/whitelaw_hearing_pure_data.pdf> [Accessed 11 June 2013].