4.67. Andy Haas, electro-acoustic album ‘Humanitarian War’ (2006)

In the Bible, the shofar is often used in a military context, where it blows alarm, assembly, pursuit, or cease attack calls. Three of these scriptural passages deal with a war of extermination. Amos 2:2 announces the destruction by fire of a kingdom: “And Moab shall die in tumult, / Amid shouting and the blare of horns,” whereas Jer. 51:27-29 about the extermination of Babylon paints an even more desolate picture: “Sound a horn among the nations, . . . 28 Appoint nations for war against her . . . 29 To make the land of Babylon / A waste without inhabitant.” In Josh. 6:1-21, the shofar is a military signal instrument, and at the same time a weapon of mass destruction which blows down the walls of Jericho, whereupon Joshua’s troops massacre the inhabitants. A more detailed picture of ideas about shofarot in psychological warfare can be found in the war texts (1st century BCE) of the Dead Sea Scrolls; Scroll 1QM describes the eschatological war that will be fought by the Sons of Light, the faithful remnant of Israel, against the enemies, the Sons of Darkness. Col. XVIII, 3-4 reads:

[T]he priests shall blow 4 [… the trum]pets of remembrance and all the battle lines shall combine against them. *The Sea Scrolls, Vol. 1 (1Q1-4Q273) 141.

In this passage about the trumpets as tools of remembrance, the Sons of Darkness are called the “horde of Belial.” Col. VIII, 8-11 is even more explicit and, at the same time, more violent:

8 The priests shall blow the six trumpets 9 of the slain with a shrill, staccato blast to direct the battle. And the levites and all the throng with ram’s horns shall blow 10 a single blast, a deafening war alarm, to melt the heart of the enemy. And at the alarm blast 11 the war javelins shall fly, to bring down the slain. *Ibid. 101.

In modern times, the chronotope of Jericho has continued to appeal to the imagination of politicians, military men, and arms manufacturers. The Junkers Ju87, the German Sturzkampfflugzeug (“dive bomber”) of the Blitzkrieg in the early years of World War II, had sirens mounted on the wings, driven by the airflow, and in a dive, the Doppler effect turned the noise into a frightening howl. These Stuka sirens were called Jerichotrompeten (“trumpets of Jericho”) and had no other purpose than terrorizing the enemy troops and civilians. Yeriḥo is also the name of a ballistic missile of the Israel Defense Forces, which can carry a nuclear warhead. And in the US, certain evangelical organizations use the concept of Jericho in their campaigns against institutions which in their view have no right to exist, and should be destroyed. One of these organizations is Pro-Life Action Ministries, that staged a quasi-biblical protest march against the EPOC abortion clinic in Orlando, Florida, in January, 2013:

There was incredible preaching, worship, praying and a Jericho March with almost everyone marching silently seven times around EPOC. It was very powerful as all wore the red tape with Life written on it, remaining completely silent as in the original Jericho March. At the end, Pastor Thomas read the Scriptures in reference to the Jericho March, the shofars were sounded and a clay pot was smashed. All then shouted, “The sword of the Spirit and Jesus!” *Pro-Life Action News, April, 2013. plam.org/news/April2013.pdf.

The clay pot probably represented the female womb, and the smashing, abortion. The smashing of the pot might also allude to Judges 7:19-22, where Gideon storms the camp of the Midianites with three hundred men, each of them equipped with a shofar and a jar with a torch in it. They blow the shofarot, smash the jars, hold the torches, shout “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” and surround the camp. And “22 when the three hundred horns were sounded, the LORD turned every man’s sword against his fellow, throughout the camp[.]” The slogan of Pro-Life Action Ministries seems to have been modeled after Gideon’s battle cry, and possibly, the protesters were comparing abortion in the clinic to the mutual killing in the Midianite camp.

A work of art which associates the shofar with modern weapons of mass destruction is the album Humanitarian War (2006) by the American jazz musician Andy Haas. The ten tracks bear the names of American, Italian and Israeli weapons, used in wars of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, such as the wars in former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The three tracks with a shofar are named after explosives: “CBU 87 Steel Rain” is a cluster bomb; “BLU 113 Penetrator” a laser-guided penetrating munition to destroy underground bunkers; and “BLU 108B Cluster” spreads guided, heat-seeking missiles against ground targets like tanks, armored cars and mobile launchers.

In Humanitarian War, Andy Haas plays all the instruments with their live electronics himself, without any overdubs. The instruments used belong to very different cultures. The taal tarang is a digital machine serving as a surrogate for Indian tablas, the pair of hand drums accompanying a singer or instrumentalist in North Indian music; it produces a large number of talas, i.e. rhythmic-metric cycles serving as a basis for melodic improvisation. By using the taal tarang, Andy Haas has his hands free to play a wind instrument and besides the shofar he blows the rhaita (a Moroccan oboe) and the fife (a simple, piccolo-like flute, used in British and American music). What these three wind instruments have in common is their penetrating, far-bearing tone, which makes them suitable for ritual or military music in the open air, with or without percussion. *Fifes, accompanied by drums with a machine-gun-like sound, are played in Protestant marches through Catholic neighborhoods in Northern Ireland. “[M]any in the Catholic, nationalist community regard the music of Orange flute bands and Lambeg drums as a source of intimidation.” Cooper, The Musical Traditions of Northern Ireland and Its Diaspora: back cover. “Sound pressure levels in excess of 120 dB can be produced and it has often been perceived as a source of sonic intimidation as much as music.” Ibid. 93.

Of the three tracks with shofar, No. 1 “CBU 87 Steel Rain” consists of straight shofar sounds at the pitch of A3, as well as electronically manipulated shofar sounds at other pitches. The 2:36-minute track begins with short and medium-length, heavily distorted high notes; from 1:05 to 1:30, there is one long shofar note, and from 2:12 to the end, medium-length notes and many glissandos are heard. The rhythms do not resemble those of the traditional shofar blasts in the liturgy.

No. 6 “BLU 113 Penetrator” lasts 4:40 and with its 130 BPM is the only one of the three shofar tracks with a steady tempo. Above an unchanging tala, shofar notes are blown, joined into “choirs” that seem to fly by, disappearing into the distance. Initially, the shofar sounds are alternated with those of the rhaita and after 4:20, when the taal tarang stops, they undergo a heavy distortion.

No. 10 “BLU 108B Cluster,” lasting 3:01, just as No. 1 seems to consist entirely of shofar sounds; these are mostly long and siren-like, reminding one of the “Jericho trumpets” of the Junkers Ju87. From 0:38 to the end, sounds are heard—possibly built of manipulated shofar notes—resembling idling diesel engines, and the final phase of the track is determined by high, sharp sounds.

These three tracks show certain parallels between the music and the effect of the weapons: in “CBU 87 Steel Rain,” series of short pulses are heard, similar to explosions; “BLU 113 Penetrator” has cracking and ripping sounds that suggest the penetration of a concrete wall, whereas the glissandi in “BLU 108B Cluster” could be associated with the flights of heat-seeking missiles. In Andy Haas’ album, the shofar can be related neither to Jewish music, nor to Israeli weaponry. No. 3 of the album, “AGM-142 Have Nap,” is named after an Israeli air-to-ground missile, but in that track Haas plays the Moroccan rhaita and the Indian taal tarang.

The title of the album, Humanitarian War, refers to a concept which originated in 1999, when NATO member states performed bombings to stop the so-called “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo, a part of former Yugoslavia. US President Bill Clinton called the ending of the ethnic cleansing a moral obligation, though the use of military force violated international law, because NATO did not act in self-defense and had no mandate from the UN Security Council. *Heinze, Waging Humanitarian War 1. According to the historians Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder, the Shoah and Israel played an indirect role in this war:

[W]hen one recalls how Americans justified intervention in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, it is clear that everyone involved was invoking the Holocaust as a template: the worst human rights violation of all time, the thing that must “never happen again.” *Judt and Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century 134.

The album title Humanitarian War in itself implies no political judgment on the phenomenon of humanitarian war, nor does the music—if it is possible at all to comment on politics with absolute, that is, non-representational, instrumental music—or even the drawing on the album case of an exploding BLU 108B cluster bomb. However, most reviewers of Humanitarian War interpreted the album as a political statement. Dominique Chevant points out the contradiction in the term “humanitarian war,” but does not argue why he finds the title ironic, nor why he considers the album a political protest: “As suggested by the ironic contradiction implied in the title, ‘Humanitarian War,’ this is an album created as a protest against ‘preemptive’ wars.” *Chevant, in http://www.amazings.com/reviews2007.html. Julian Cowley states: “With tracks entitled ‘Depleted Uranium’ and ‘White Phosphorus,’ and others alluding to cluster bombs and steel rain, Andy Haas registers his disgust at the vile rhetorics of the current US administration.” *Cowley, in The Wire (UK), November, 2006. The question then is why Andy Haas’ criticism of US politics is not just as explicit as in his album The Ruins of America (2008), in which he puts the popular patriotic song America the Beautiful through devastating deformations. Daniel Spicer goes a step further and considers Humanitarian War a direct reference to concrete political events: “a vivid and unsettling depiction of war crimes in the Persian Gulf: high, keening, wailing notes warped and disfigured by electricity, like a Muezzin caught in flames as an ancient mosque is razed to the ground.” *Spicer, in Jazzwise (UK), April, 2007. The review by Dominique Chevant labels the tracks “surrealist pieces, disquieting, suggesting images of the chaos and the injustice inherent to any war.” It is not, however, possible to express a concept like “injustice” in music without text or image; music can only suggest—often better than words do—chaos and threat, and that is what happens in the three tracks with the shofar.

In Humanitarian War, the Present is directed by the Past, while at the same time the Past is altered by the Present. Andy Haas uses a traditional shofar and blows new, improvised and electronically transformed blasts. In an album with the title Humanitarian War, the shofar, which is not a “neutral” musical instrument, brings along connotations with the biblical story of the destruction of Jericho and eschatological texts like the Qumran War Scroll. Due to the non-representational nature of music, the tracks with a shofar cannot be political statements; however, they are sound eruptions suggesting general chaos and threat—and drawing attention to chaos and threat can be a political statement. In addition, the combination of the shofar with instruments from Moroccan, Indian and Anglo-Saxon music cultures suggests that war is an global phenomenon.
 

Next Chapter

Contents

Glossary