Given how evocative and visceral electronic music can be, it’s surprising that it’s not used more often to make a political statement. It is a powerful medium, one that should be used to drive important messages home more forcefully.
Benj Braman, an impressively prolific electronic music producer in Phoenix, Arizona under the name Amethyst Seer, has taken up that challenge with his new piece Protest. Featuring recordings from a recent demo outside a rally held by U.S. President Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center, the work is powerful and immediate. (The protest took place just last week.)
By combining field recordings with tense, sometimes difficult electronic sounds, Braman delivers a kind of colour commentary of the event. He and I traded emails today.
“A group of friends and I went down to protest the rally as there were a lot of white supremacist groups saying they were going to be there and that’s not the type of thing we want in Phoenix,” he said. “As a precaution if anything were to happen I thought it might be wise to have a recording of my experience, so I had the voice memo app running on my iPhone for almost the entire duration we were down there.
“The people supporting Trump were so confounding. Hearing racist rhetoric yelled over a loudspeaker, seeing the seething confusing madness come out of Trump supporters’ mouths, it was baffling and soul crushing.
“The lack of empathy on display shouldn’t have been surprising but when they started using the tear gas and seeing people of all walks of life fleeing, gagging and coughing it honestly fucked me up. I thankfully didn’t get exposed to too much of the tear gas, but even a limited exposure was awful. There was no discourse, it disgusts me that the police chose to protect a group of people whose platform runs on hatred, who were screaming incredibly awful things at people, while harming those who stood against it.”
The piece begins somewhat light-heartedly with friends connecting onsite. There’s anger of course, but you can also hear excitement in the protestors’ voices.
Just 90 seconds in though, the first warning comes: “They’re throwing gas.” You can feel the chaos build as protestors cough violently.
It’s at this point that Braman introduces the first electronics. A heavy buzz with siren-like drones behind it.
“I recorded the piece of music the next day as a way of trying to emulate what it felt like to be down there, especially the dread and tension,” said Braman. “The gear used in the piece was a Eurorack Modular synthesizer, running through a Behringer Chorus pedal, an Earthquaker Devices Transmisser and a Source Audio Soundblox Multiwave distortion Pedal. An Arp Odyssey running through an Earthquaker Devices Avalanche Run, an Access Virus Indigo and a Volca Fm. It was improvised and done in one take. I added the field recordings over the top of the improvised piece.”
The result is effective, both musically and politically. It’s a power combination that makes this one of the year’s most substantive recordings.