The Drone Effect

(Dana Dawud)(Dana Dawud)
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The drone is a politically charged and ambiguous concept. I’m calling it a concept, because the drone hovers over many material and linguistic manifestations: a swarm of humming bees, a sub-genre of minimalist music, a part of an instrument, a monotonous state of being, and a creator of images. But as the war in Syria escalates—giving world powers a site where they can add more war crimes to their records, and aid Assad’s regime in its blatant destruction– drones resonate with one word: Death.

This highly efficient and lethal technology has been utilized by different sides including Hezbollah militants helping Assad gain control, and countries like the US leading airstrikes under the pretext of humanitarian intervention. Even though this “unmanned” intelligent war machine can be effective as it has the capacity to carry huge artillery and cover large areas, it has been reported that it’s hard to predict the exact number of casualties caused by drone airstrikes, and whether civilians are among them or not. Back in September, In an absurd twist unsettling the shaky political atmosphere, British RAF Reaper drones involved in a US-airstrike mistakenly targeted Syrian Troops instead of Islamic State fighters, causing a political turmoil. In 1849, Austria sent 200 balloons armed with time bombs over to Venice, the wind carried the balloons back to Austrian lines.

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The drone is blind, yet it creates images. High-definition drone footage of ravaged and deserted Syrian cities in rubble and stone have surfaced everywhere. They act as a haunting testimony to repeated violations of international laws, and the failure to provide effective humanitarian aid. Other footage and videos document critical battles in combat zones, having a quality which highlights the distanced detachment in which the drone commander works under; a machine of apathy.  And like the devious balloons which changed their direction, images of destruction and battles have been manipulated and used as war propaganda by different sides to strengthen their position and give their narrative legitimacy. The only image drones remain blind to, is the revolution.

A drone is in the air, aerial and ethereal until it hits the ground. In the air, the drone is a humming monotonous sound that sends anxiety and psychological horror, so how does sound become weapon?

Sound Becoming Weapon

The part in the bagpipe responsible for making steady harmonizing monotonous tunes, is the drone.  Bagpipes’ long history has blurred the line between sound and weaponry, since they’ve been used in the two world wars and have been classified as weapons of war until 1996. They were meant to be used to signal tactical movements for troops in battle, but the main reason behind classifying this musical instrument as a weapon occurred in the aftermath of the 1746 defeat of the Jacobite Rising by the British Government led by the Duke of Cumberland. In Culloden, the confrontation ended in less than an hour with the death of thousands of Jacobites, and the capture of hundreds including one piper named James Reid.  Standing before the judges to be tried for treason, Reid claimed innocence, saying that all he had with him on the battlefield was his bagpipe. The judges, in order to condemn him for treason with the others, made a juridical move which has given the musical instrument the rank of a rifle. Reid was hanged to death.

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The sounds of the bagpipe have been the soundtrack for harrowing death and events which have shaped history:  A man plays his bagpipe, tunes carried by the cold sea breeze blowing against his body, the drone pipe on his shoulder, while his comrades fall around him one by one in Normandy, an island of deadly sounds. On D-Day, the bagpipe announced the victory of allied forces against Nazi troops. Today, the drone announces postponed death.

“A drone airstrike killed an entire family instead of killing ISIS fighters”

“The drone can never be a sound again, no juridical order would suffice, there’s no sound after Aleppo.”

Media Becoming Drone

Canadian artist Mitchell F Chan latest exhibition “Art and Inactivism” delves into art’s involvement in political discourse and the cluster effects of consumerist media. His piece “Infinite Newsfeed,” according to his website, runs a monotone soundtrack of lyrics generated by pulling the day’s news, reciting them along to a droning musical accompaniment composed in real-time by a software of the artist’s design. The piece situated in the context of an art space, underscores the audio-visual droning effect  both weapons and media have on the political atmosphere. Drone commanders watch real-time footage as they shoot their targets, the cameras on drones are silent, only people on ground would hear the monotone  buzzing. Mitchell’s piece of droning music accompanying the endless humming of the day’s news, could be the  making audible of the silent real-time feed of destructive drones.

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Real time drone footage (Five Thousand Feet is Best by Omer Fast)

The Media has been droning the revolution ever since its beginning, narratives multiplied and diverged as the conflicts deepened and the confrontations intensified. The refugee crisis fused Voices on the right with racist xenophobic discourses, while the left’s discourse became steeped in defeatism and fascist delusional rhetoric. Numerous headlines in newspapers read that “no one knows what’s really happening in Syria”. The drone effect of consumerist media and the tiresome talk of the “post-truth” world we live in, has allowed the whole world to turn a blind eye to the butchering and displacement of millions of Syrian people on the hands of their own illegitimate government. If we follow the logic of “we are equally guilty”, the humanity has failed again narrative, we somehow absolve the main perpetrators of this horror. We produce a remote drone effect which kills blindly and silently; the real-time mute feed.

There’s no sound after Aleppo.

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Dana Dawud

Dana Dawud is a writer and artist from Jordan.

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