Probably from the beginning of military history the words Military Intelligence have generated hilarity among common soldiers. Learning not to trust anything except what they see in front of their eyes has become common for soldiers no matter how sophisticated the technology at the disposal of their "intelligence" sources.
Which when you think about it makes you wonder why everybody was so quick to believe the initial intelligence reports of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. With no actual eyewitnesses as of yet confirming the existence of even a bug bomb let alone facilities to make nuclear weaponry the question of their existence has long since passed into the realm of the less said about it the better by the American military establishment and its political masters.
This of course hasn't stopped those who have opposed the war from the onset forgetting what was originally given as the motivation for the invasion of Iraq. So the title of the latest collaboration between Viggo Mortensen and guitar virtuoso Buckethead (the man with the penchant for wearing an empty bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a mask as a disguise while on stage to preserve his secret identity) Intelligence Failure can be read within that context quite easily, especially considering its contents.
The eight tracks contained on this CD are constructed utilizing excerpts from speeches and news conferences given by current and former members of the Republican administration. They are mixed down and overdubbed with new and previously composed music played by Viggo Mortensen, Buckethead, Henry Mortensen, Walter Mortensen, and Travis Dickerson.
So you get to hear some of the greatest "hits" from the past few years, including such favourites as Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations assuring the world that the weapons of mass destruction exist. Or how about George Bush's witty comment about seeing the first of the planes going into the World Trade Centre "I thought, there's a bad pilot".
Of course it's not all one liners, there's also the serious statement from such distinguished gentlemen like Karl Rove exhorting Republicans that's it their job to convince the American people they are the party to that will be able to win the war on terror. Or George Bush, again, explaining to America why other people hate them; not mentioning anything about the exploitation of natural resources, support of repressive regimes, or how living in poverty for generations can create resentment towards examples of conspicuous consumption.
Intelligence Failure makes no bones about its politics or where it stands on the issue of the Iraq war. Obviously this is not going to find favour among those who think that voicing an opinion contrary to the one held by the White House is anti-American or unpatriotic.
Aware of that the creators of the disc also include the voice of American historian Howard Zinn at one point offering some timely reminders about patriotism, politics, and history. "Patriotism" he says "does not mean loving your political leaders it means loving your country" Or he asks what basis has history ever given us for having faith in the leadership abilities of our politicians in the past forty years.
He doesn't list the decisions of leadership over the past forty years that have brought about this state of affairs, but you don't even need to look back that far. It's been the mistakes since Viet Nam that have brought the world to the situation we face now. The unstinting support of The Shah of Iran, supplying arms to the Taliban for their war against the Russians in Afghanistan, and turning a blind eye to Saddam's use of poison gas on Kurds when he was their ally fighting against Iran in the mid 1980s have all contributed.
The first time I heard a "found sound" recording utilizing the taped words of public figures offset with music was My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts put together by David Byrne and Brian Eno back in the early 1980's. Intelligence Failure is the first attempt at this type of project that I have heard since then that has been as innovative and inventive in its use of sound, voice and technology to create atmosphere and mood.
The music and the voices are worked together so that on occasion the music dominates to the extent that the voices become indistinct but remain as a persistent drone; an ever present reminder of their existence and persistence in our lives. The voices of George Bush and the rest of the gang have been the undercurrent that has sent repercussions throughout the world since they first came to power no matter if we hear them or not.
Like an undertow they exist under the placid surface of life creating eddies and whirlpools that continually threaten to suck us all under. At times the music is that placid exterior existing in counterpoint to the terror created by these men and women. At other times the music becomes discordant and jarring; a reflection of their effect upon the world as seen by the creators of the piece.
Intelligence Failure can be seen as a reference to the joke I talked about at the beginning of this review. Or it can be seen as a general commentary on the state of American society which suffered a collective intelligence failure as it got caught up in the emotional turmoil that surrounded the attack on New York City and the aftermath.
A third option is the possibility that it refers to our collapse as a species in terms of striving to create as a counter balance to our ability to destroy. In the first track on the CD "Demolition Of The Willing" Viggo picks out Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" on the piano while Henry reads/sings/chants English lyrics of brotherhood and friendship to the tune. While to some this may be a sign of resistance, to me it feels more like a sign of how far we've fallen that no one has created anything near as beautiful or celebratory as Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
With all our technological advancements, our so-called culture and society that others envy and covet, all we can do is produce is an atmosphere that frowns on original thought and puts down intelligence as some sort of aberration. Artistic creativity is dismissed as being less then manly and otherwise suspect.
Science and technology that if properly funded could eliminate our need for fossil fuels is ignored and under funded, but billions of dollars a year are spent on figuring out ways of killing each other. Money is available for creating passport-screening programs at the world longest friendly border, but doesn't exist to rebuild one of the oldest cities in continental North America after the devastation of Katrina.
Intelligence Failure by Buckethead and Viggo maybe seen by some, even its creators, as simply a commentary on the Iraq war and its circumstances, but that's just one symptom of a much larger intelligence failure. Buckethead and Viggo have created an aural sound collage with the intent of trying to open people's ears to a new way of listening to the same old words and maybe hearing something a little different then they heard the first time round.
Depending on how close people are willing to listen, they may even hear deeper then the creators hoped. This disc isn't going to end the war, or probably even change that many minds about it. Those who are still supporting it at this late stage aren't about to change anymore. But maybe what it will do is help those who did see some justice in it originally understand why they feel so cheated and betrayed now. Maybe it will encourage them to think a little and ask why the next time when someone comes waving a flag to lead them off to war.
(Originally posted March 2007)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.