What is the Sound of One Flag Burning? combines political demonstration with philosophical reflection on recording technology. In December 2016 I created a high quality sound recording of a public flag burning in response to rising neo-national sentiment in the US and in light of the president-elect’s threats to imprison those responsible for a similar event. Culminating in a vinyl record, the project asks: to what extent can sound reliably evidence acts of transgression?

The project suggests a double homage: Firstly, to American artist Dread Scott’s 1988 What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag?, a work that invited participants to step on an American flag and which prompted President Bush Senior's support of legislation that subsequently prohibited such acts. Secondly, the project alludes to Iannis Xenakis’s 1958 work Concrete PH, a musique concrète composition that consists entirely of the sound of a single burning ember.

While reflecting on the political environment of the historical present, the project subtly provokes philosophical questions around musique concrète. Particularly, through his notion of acousmatics, composer Pierre Schaeffer imagined recording technology as capable of removing all reference to a sound’s source. Yet if the sound of burning an American flag were to reliably figure as evidence of a legal infraction, would that not challenge Schaeffer’s phenomenal separation between essence and appearance?

The project will result in a vinyl record featuring the original audio recording as Side A. Side B is to contain a special “remix” by Hong Kong artist Samson Young. The record will be released on April 29, 2017, Donald Trump’s 100th day in office as president.

Flag burning action, December 9, 2016

Vinyl record, edition of 50