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Terror, Iraq, Weapons: an algorithmic remix

by Steve Anderson

Mike Nourse's short remix video Terror Iraq Weapons is one of many short, remix videos that appeared during the lead-up to the 2004 American presidential election. The video was created by means of executing a single algorithm: each occurrence (or variation) of the words "terror," "Iraq" and "weapons" was extracted from a single speech by President George W. Bush and grouped in the order in which they occurred. Nourse's deceptively simple conceit poses a surprisingly effective critique of both the Bush campaign's mendacious association of al Qaeda's attack on the World Trade Center with the regime of Saddam Hussein and the central canard of the administration's advocacy of war, namely the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the American military onslaught in 2003. At the same time, Nourse's video invites us to think about the functioning of the news media as a passive echo chamber for campaign and administration talking points. The low-tech simplicity of Nourse's process invites viewers to imagine creating their own variations on this project, transforming virtually any electronic broadcast into potential raw materials for re-editing and redistribution. Nourse's deployment of an explicitly algorithmic process also exemplifies one aspect of art production in the database age by emphasizing the importance of keywords as a means of understanding and reprocessing the content of media broadcasts. The attribution of metadata, such as keywords, to any media set constitutes a similar process — the distillation of key concepts from a field of possibilities. The result, as with the information-handling capacity of a database system, is to amplify the power of recombination and use of the data set, in this case, turning media consumers into producers of alternative or resistant meanings. Nourse's video and many others like it, including Lenka Clayton's qaeda quality question quickly quickly quiet (2002), operate in a specifically linguistic realm, with almost total disregard for the visual. Clayton's film, which has also been released in audio-only format on LP (thereby underscoring its relation to DJ culture), takes every one of the 3814 words in Bush's infamous "Axis of evil" State of the Union speech and simply re-edits them into alphabetical order. In both Nourse's and Clayton's videos, the image of the president jumps spastically around the screen, enslaved by the syntactic rearrangement taking place in the verbal register. This welcome reversal of the usual image-sound hierarchy has its most disruptive impact on the performative aspects of the political speeches, whose constructed inflections and cadences are simultaneously subverted and revealed by the imposed structure of the re-edit.

Terror Iraq Weapons

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A video clip that boils down George Bush's 2003 speech to the three basic keywords.

from Terror Iraq Weapons (2003)
Creator: Mike Nourse
Posted by Ala' Diab