Coulter Shock

Coulter Shock 8'46"

Celeste Hutchins 2004

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Program Notes:

I then downloaded a long clip, over a minute, of Ann Coulter on Hannity and Colmes, arguing that it was "factually correct" that Clinton "was a scumbag." What was immediately fascinating was the "cross talk" on the sample, where multiple pundits were speaking at the same time. It seems like some pundit shows are nothing but cross talk. Cross talk is information overload. It is impossible to pay attention to two or three people talking at the same time. In the effort for everyone to be heard, nobody is heard. Cross talking pundits give the impression of communicating information while actually communicating nothing at all. Once again, I tried overlapping the sample, creating artificial cross talk into a dense texture. I still like this idea, but haven't yet used it in a piece.

Instead, I started thinking about pundits and meaning, specifically, the difference between Limbaugh and Coulter. Ann Coulter speaks in sound bites. Everything she says is designed for maximum punch in as few seconds as possible. And the punch she packs is astounding. What rational person would argue that it was "factually correct" that anyone was a scumbag? Yet she said this about Clinton. And then she goes on to say that anyone who criticizes our current president is a traitor. In one clip that I use, she attacks the very notion of polls when they show low points for Bush but then, without pausing, attacks Kerry for polling low. Her positions are, self-contradictory, indefensible and astounding, but when she's asked to defend them, she does, again in little sound bites. She's impossible to argue with. It seems like any show she was on would dissolve into meaningless name-calling or cross talk. And indeed, most of what she says is meaningless. Ann Coulter gives the impression of communicating ideas without actually doing so. She will say that polls are meaningless and that none of them should be trusted (when talking about Bush's poll numbers) and without pausing for breath will attack Kerry's low poll showing. Her books, comments, punditry and columns essentially say nothing but Republicans are right and Democrats are wrong, over and over again with no backing, no real evidence, nothing but puzzling and meaningless sound-bites and name calling. She is incredibly talented at weaving nothing into the appearance of something.

I wrote a program that looked for pauses in her phrases and created long "grains" based on her phrasing. I then played out the grains in random order. I used my original crosstalk laden sample. It was amazing how little the sample changed. The pretense of meaning was obscured, but the pretense was so thin to start out with that it was as if nothing had been lost. When I played the original clip (without video) for some of my comrades, they found the unprocessed version nearly as incomprehensible as the re-ordered version. Then, I tried creating artificial cross talk by overlapping phrases. It was exactly as if I had punditry on in the background and wasn't paying attention to it.

I downloaded as many other files of Coulter as I could. I discovered that her voice only has a few tones. She is either sarcastic and snippy, sarcastic and smirking, shrill or defensive. I could put together phrases from any of her Hannity and Colmes appearances and, because the micing was always the same, it would sound like it all came from the same appearance. The little artificially constructed speeches produced by my process almost made sense. Her lack of timbral variation was as interesting and useful as Bush's rich tones. Which is not to say that timbres don't exist, just that they're much more subtle and she doesn't have much emotional range.

I became fascinated by her voice. I created an 11-minute work in progress. The first 5 minutes are taking her many media appearances and reordering her words. I got the audio clips from, guaranteeing that I had her most offensive comments from any of her appearances. Then, luckily, in the first week of October, her new book came out, thus greatly increasing the amount of source material. It was like heaven, except that my original fascination for her was beginning to turn into hate.

The second part of the piece takes a snapshot of the last pass of word reordering. It then broke that snapshot in grains all of equal size. The number of grains was equal to 4 times the number of clips in the re-ordering section. The play back algorithm plays back the grains in a moving window, like a cloud algorithm. On the second pass, the grains are four times smaller and the window is five times bigger. This goes on in a loop of decreasing grains and increasing window for about six minutes.

That's the end of the work in progress. I first played in September of 2004 at Open Mic Night at It's Only Natural. Unfortunately, this time the people present were not "friendly" experiencers. They quickly became annoyed at the lack of pitch material. It was almost the exact same people as the audience for my piece with Bush and digital peaking, however they were hostile to this one, perhaps because of the lack of pitched material. Several people got up and left during it. One person afterwards was explaining to me about how when he was in music school, he'd learn to craft pieces that went somewhere and had been cautioned against distorting recorded voice.

The next performance was in Oakland, CA at the club 21 Grand. For that second performance, I used greater diversity of source material. Coulter's book came out in the mean time, giving her many press appearances and thus more material for me to choose from. Instead of making the piece longer, more samples were added in at a faster rate to cause the content to change more quickly. Coulter's book hyping created a plethora of material. I also added in a short clip of Hannity lying about Kerry to increase the non-Coulter voices and make it sound more like a pundit discussion. Also, since almost all the samples come form Hannity and Colmes, his voice was already in the piece.

This time, the friendly experiencers were entirely people from my mailing list and the other performers playing that evening. They had entirely different expectations than did the open mic attendees at ION. Also, it may have been helpful to play George Bush audience. Jascha Narveson heard it and invited me to submit it to the Red Festival in Toronto where it will be part of sion as it was for itompositional choice about whether I want all the samples to be the same amplitude or whether to have some of them louder than others. Then, of course, I need to modify the samples to reflect these choices. For the Red Festival, I did not make these choices, but rather just altered sections that looked excessively loud or excessively quiet.

This piece is designed to change over time as it has. I want the source sounds to change as new material becomes available. In this way, I hope to extend the shelf life of the piece and be able to keep it current as events warrant.

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