Perfect Sound Forever

Gunshot Songs:
Hitting The Top 100 With A Bullet

Wreck Loud Violence 1246 Trigger Warning:
Loud music, loud gunshots & news reports of arguments over

Wreck The Gunless World 1245 imagines the seemingly unimaginable - a world without guns.
1244's gun blasts are replaced by bird songs.

Wreck Gun Discharge 1244 is part 1 of a Guns tryptich -
an arrangement of sad-tragic gun death news bites strewn over a soothing bed of great music.

by bart plantenga
(February 2022)

Sampled gunshot sounds in music are not uncommon. But their application presents a mixed message lodged somewhere between social commentary and self-heroicization as it sometimes smudges society's concern for violence with the artist's self-aggrandizement in the manufacture of a hit record.

powpowpow: Gunshots still startle us - unless, like many people in America or warzones around the world, it's a daily occurrence, part of one's ticktock ambience where the human nervous system must adapt, become inured to even the most horrific.

Local witnesses to gun violence inevitably describe it as "senseless," which only spooks them further as randomness makes innocent bystanders its victims. Anxiety is further exacerbated when a single-shot firearm is traded in for a semi-automatic or full automatic, allowing for uncontrolled expenditures of bullets - or "spray and pray."

pewpewpew: My radio program, Wreck This Mess, evolved in the late-'80's on WFMU as a response to over-chatty, commercial and indie radio format constraints. I chose expansive, uninterrupted soundscapes that alluded to issues - Reagan, war, loneliness, the seasons, poverty. Every few years I return to gun violence because... it remains a festering wound inside our collective soul.

My recent Wreck This Mess anti-gun tripych (see above) was the result of intense fixated viewing of US gun violence YouTube videos, mostly covering senseless and stupid gun use: road rage, incorrect fast food orders, garbage issues, perceived slights, jealousy, territoriality and, in the case of WTM1246, arguments over loud music - the ridiculous made unfathomable. The formula for WTM1244 was gun violence news + soothing music; for WTM1245 gunshots were replaced by bird songs.

WTM1246 opens with an excerpt from "Dawn," DF Tram's excellent melancholy ambient composition that became an even more haunting gateway into gun violence when I mixed in the audio from a YouTube video where a Chicago resident, to emphasize local gun insanity, plays back a recording he made of Chicago's nightly gun violence in the distance. Indeed, it's hard to believe this eerie powpow is Chicago until the narrator assures us it is NOT Kabul or Baghdad.

boomboomboom: The use of oft-authentic gunshot samples in rap/hip hop and, to a lesser extent, in reggae, rock, country and even classical is nothing new. Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" has often included real cannons on stage to foreground the cataclysmic climax. Also, the orchestration for Beethoven's symphony "Wellington's Victory," commemorating a British battle victory, includes muskets and other artillery sounds. We can already hear tragedy commingling with thrill (Phil Spector shooting holes in a studio ceiling during the Lennon sessions doesn't count).

Gunshot sampling is contentious because motives remain unclear. For instance, we know that these kinds of sounds can stimulate both the pain and pleasure areas of the dopamine-producing hypothalamus. So, gunshots may arouse disgust or dismay as wake-up call, reminding us of that flimsy line between life and death, advocating gun control by viscerally amplifying the horror and scaring us straight. Or serve as a 21-gun salute to the deceased. Or do they underscore the everyday misery of ordinary folk living in meth-ravaged, futureless regions, eventually ennobling the survivors as they float from the street into cinematic myth? Or is it all just ironic, post-mode, mixed-emotion thrills?

Maybe gunshots just mock all hopeless efforts to stop the violence. The New York Times notes that, during the period from March 2021, when testimony in the Derek Chauvin case began, until late April 2021 "at least 64 people died at the hands of law enforcement nationwide... the average was more than three killings a day." In that month, an estimated 110 gun deaths occurred every day, totaling 2400+ gun deaths.

With every prayer, statistic or politician's vow to stop the violence, we're forced to admit that it's not looking hopeful because, ultimately, factoids, graphic footage, commissions, and earnestness do little to pry guns loose from the collective American grip - America's fetishizing of the gun seems too deeply embedded in its fried DNA.

bangbangbang: So, does gun entertainment provoke real gun violence? The chicken-egg dilemma prevents us from ever knowing with certainty. Meanwhile victims, bystanders, and perps often describe the witnessing of a gun crime as surreal, like from a movie. People have so absorbed Hollywood that it has in turn absorbed them. The perps metamorphose into avatars or ghostly online presences to play a supporting role in a movie with the gun as "star." Mesmerized by the illusive status of the gun, they become increasingly alienated from the consequences of firearm abuse and dream of going out in a hail of bullets. Their name on everyone's lips.

Survivors may lift their shirts to unveil gun wounds the way soldiers show off war medals. Or pose with their weapons, preening, extending their small selves via the prosthetic firearm, inhabiting a movie called Simulate My Spectacle with a script not written by them. For author Guy Debord, this constituted an unacceptable "degradation" of life.

Meanwhile, the perps are seen smiling in court because they've been elevated out of their inconsequential, anonymous reality - for the first time in their lives someone's paying attention to them.

We eventually realize there's no lesson to be learned; that Medgar Evers, JFK, RFK, MLK, Malcolm X, mass shooting victims, and the George Floyds all died in vain to a protest soundtrack that sounds like a long deja vu loop from the '60's called the "Race Riot Tapes." Maybe not totally in vain. After all, we've come to understand that society has an ironic stake in glamorizing gun violence: to distract us from the simple fact that guns may kill people but they also sell tickets.

popopop: Of course, there's the weapons industry that spawns endless new markets - police employment, military hardware, alarms, CCTV, PTSD therapists, counselors, police dog trainers, home security, doorbell cams, holding cells, bulletproof glass, armored vehicles, security guards, neighborhood watch, true crime entertainment that monetizes a bottomless stream of gruesome crime stories, a legal system burdened with a tragic wealth of limitless stories for attorneys on both sides. There's authors, costly investigations, arrests, incarceration, interrogation, bail, "if it bleeds, it leads" news media, statisticians, pathologists, ER, books, documentaries, anti-gun NGOs, pro-gun groups, and the construction, maintenance, and facilitation of courts, prisons, hospitals, plus cafeterias, staffs, etc. - all feeding from the trough of "senseless" violence. A true cynical and parasitic growth industry.

Related gun violence causes include unattainable dreams deceitfully promised by society (The American Dream); a nanny culture that micromanages everyone into safe spaces, in effect, snuffing out all adventure, experience, and happenstance; wholesale releases of psychiatric patients without calculating potential consequences. Meanwhile, decreased attention spans, phone screen indifference, atrophying communication skills, shrinking IQs and vocabularies, signal a growing inability to articulate or comprehend basic emotions and issues. Debates, discussions, disagreements end in frustration, exploding into fisticuffs or gunshots as societal inadequacies foster hair-trigger misunderstandings - word poor, trigger happy. As Josephine Baker once said: "You must learn to protect yourself with the pen, and not the gun."

"Everywhere I go, all I ever seem to hear is / Bang bang! Bang bang!" Dr. Dre

bambambam: In discussing gunblast sampling, we're not talking about songs that tell stories about shootings like "Stagger Lee," Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," Gil Scott Heron's "Gun" or Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe" (probably written by Billy Roberts) - there are eerily plenty of those. Or songs that approximate the sounds of guns, using onomatopoeia - powpow, bangbang - like Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot's "Comic Strip," Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang," or Chief Keef's provocative, ironic despair on "Bang." Or the simulated drum kit gunfire on Bobby Fuller's "I Fought the Law" or Hendrix's electric guitar simulations of machine gun fire on "Machine Gun."

We're talking mostly authentic gunshot-sample tracks:

There are countless other examples... Meanwhile, the interesting thing is YouTube and other platforms warn of graphic content when a shooting pops up but they always stop short of exposing the actual instant a bullet enters a victim's body. The crimes continue unabated while their portrayals, to respect the survivors, are banned or censored as if the video is a more serious transgression than the violent act itself.

"The end move in politics is always to pick up a gun"- R. Buckminster Fuller


Further Info: Gun Violence Archives

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