A Requiem for Edward Snowden is such an enjoyable release—that is, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word. Imagine the brooding darkness and woodwinds of old Univers Zero and the sweeping emotional strings of Godspeed You Black Emperor, layered with a creepy subtle electronic glitchiness, like the Kronos Quartet collaborating with Merzbow (on one of those few occasions where Merzbow limits himself to frosty crackles and blackboard scrapes rather than full-on Merz-abuse). Occasionally, the glitchiness takes centre stage, but the album never loses its orchestral/ensemble vibe, and the darkness never fully clears, which is appropriate for a release which is ostensibly about the moment we all realised that we were (and, more to the point, still are) actually living in an Orwellian nightmare.
Edward Snowden is best known, of course, for providing the proof that numerous global surveillance programs really exist (many of them controlled by the American ‘National Security Agency’ and the ‘Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance’—an entity that sounds pretty much as much like a made-up supervillain league as anything could) and leaking said proof to various media outlets for dissemination to ‘We the People’. And, as so often happens to such whistleblowers, rather than being marched through the street as a hero, Snowden was pretty much on the run from then on (as far as anyone knows at this point, Snowden is living at an undisclosed location somewhere in Russia).
My personal opinion aside (as a Crowleyian-style anarchist, anything that disrupts the control of the monopolistic power structures that currently govern the mainstream is pretty much going to bring me some kind of wary joy), it’s clear that to Matthew Collings, Edward Snowden is a heroic figure. Collings writes that the fact that Snowden is on the run for the foreseeable future for revealing the truth ‘makes me incredible angry’, and he calls him a ‘whistleblower’ rather than a ‘dissident’ or a ‘traitor’, or even a ‘terrorist’ (all things Snowden has been called by others). All of which is clear on the recording: the album expresses sorrow, anger, confusion, paranoia, and sadness, mostly without relying on any words at all (although words are present now and then, sometimes as computer-generated transcripted voices intoning coldly [strangely accented automatic ghost voices speaking the inner secrets of a surveilled population], sometimes as multi-layered male and female human voices reciting words written by Snowden himself, sometimes glitched entirely beyond recognition, other than the recognition that they were indeed once voices).
Although A Requiem for Edward Snowden began life as a live audiovisual performance piece, it definitely works as a sound-only recording. It’s all recorded beautifully, with the strings and clarinet never battling for space with the electronic glitchery unless, of course, it is absolutely required: The discordant peak of overwhelming madness that occurs in the final few minutes of the nearly ten-minute long ‘Rapid Pulses’ roars with anger and injustice, and the dark clipping, distorted drone that sits beneath the plaintive clarinet on ‘Collect It All’ is just the right blend of ominous and violent. Some tracks are like a duet for woodwind and badly tuned radio, the fragmentary sounds of rapidly tuning through disparate signals matched by the mad skronking of a clarinet; other tunes are more like dark ambient drone for computers and string ensemble. It’s definitely ‘art music’, but it’s never alienating or pretentious and remains emotionally connected at all times. It’s also definitely ‘political music’, without ever being blatant or didactic about it.
A Requiem for Edward Snowden is an excellent release, and well worth checking out, although I’m not certain Edward Snowden deserves a ‘Requiem’ as much as Chelsea Manning does. While Snowden’s case is definitely dire, he managed to escape to Russia and currently lives there with his girlfriend; Manning, for similar crimes (revealing secrets to Wikileaks), continues to be locked away in a maximum-security military prison for a potential sentence of thirty-five years, and, less than a month ago, attempted to take her own life. If Matthew Collings has a ‘Requiem for Chelsea Manning’ planned, believe me, I’m all ears.
02) Maersk Recorder
05) Rapid Pulses
06) Bluffdale, Utah
07) Collect It All