Program Notes & excerpts from Bernard Clarke’s The Savage Bull – Prix Italia shortlistee

The Savage Bull, a radio art diptych by radio artist Bernard Clarke has been shortlisted under the New Radio Formats category for a Prix Italia Golden Award. The New Radio Formats award is in its first year as a prize category and is being awarded to the most innovative, unconventional, groundbreaking, daring and bold radio/audio format, including web native radio and audio offers, with no limit of genre, platform, length, produced with or without the support of archive material.

Established in 1948 by Italian national broadcaster RAI, The Prix Italia Awards are the oldest and most prestigious international competition for the promotion of quality, innovation and creativity in the media and garner entries from radio, TV, and digital media outlets in 87 countries all over the globe. To be shortlisted for the new avant-garde award in its first year is a huge honour. But it’s no surprise to followers of radio art and sound art in Ireland and internationally, among whom Bernard Clarke’s virtuoso work has been a gaining a wide and appreciative listenership in recent years.

We have been proud to feature Bernard’s work on a number of occasions on The Bogman’s Cannon and, when we heard about his nomination were eager to get him to tell us the ideas and events behind The Savage Bull. Bernard also kindly shared a number of extracts for us to pass on to Cannonites. Scroll down for his fascinating and detailed Program Notes for The Savage Bull.


This is a radio art diptych depicting the brutalization of war and ideas explored in Friedrich Nietzsche’s work particularly On the Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil.

Nietzsche posits two types of morality mixed not only in higher civilization but also in the psychology of the individual. “Master-morality” values power, nobility, and independence: it stands “beyond good and evil.”
Whereas “Slave-morality” values sympathy, kindness, and humility and is regarded by Nietzsche as “herd- morality.” For Nietzsche, the history of society is the conflict between these two positions: the herd attempts to impose its values universally, but the noble master transcends their “mediocrity.”

Put the extremes of war in the mix and we get genocide, horror, and the collapse of all morality. The first part of this work (Tracing A-7063) is a holocaust commemoration; a radiophonic impression of a new documentary film in progress (working title A-7063) by the young Polish director Maciek Klich. It grew out of a conversation with Maciek: in Auschwitz last year he met survivor Eva Mozes Tor and interviewed her concerning her experiences at the hands of the infamous Doctor Joseph Mengele. 
Maciek has set out to tell Eva Mozes Tors’ story in documentary film and animation for the memory sequences of her experience in the Holocaust. I was intrigued and inspired by what he told me and set out to render such a dual style of narrating a story in sound.

It opens in shards, in the Nazi Regime’s only approved recording of the Mozart Requiem (with all of Christianity’s Hebrew origins excised) and insists throughout on the interference and disruption of the listeners expectations. The relative familiarity to most radio listeners of Mozart’s music seems to promise the familiar soundtrack to this historical tragedy – but it is abruptly terminated; I am trying to set up a somewhat familiar emotional space and interpretation/perspective and how comfortable that can be for the listener and the reality: no music being “appropriate” for this horrific historical outrage.
The darkness continues, the voices speak, the sounds and “music” work sometimes in conjunction, sometimes in opposition to the stories, hopefully always defamiliarising and aiming to make the listener vulnerable. He/she cannot take a safe or objective perspective on the sounds as they unfold: the darkness engulfs everything, and everyone listening is either perpetrator or victim.

In May of this year, a first version of Tracing A-7063 won Best Audio (Yamaha Música award) at this years Black & White International Festival in Porto, Portugal. I was very pleased of course, but for all that something was “missing” in the piece. Unfortunately, I found just what was “missing” in July of this year when Gaza erupted and the ensuing savage violence shocked the world.

As so often, I took myself off to the RTÉ Archives, where archivist Rob Canning helped me source hundreds of hours of radio programming.
My friend, musician and film director, Sami Moukkadem also helped me enormously giving me his documentary film, unused edits and ultimately voice for the scripted meditation on the savagery in Gaza.

From this I managed to fashion part 2, “Human Shields” a portrait as I saw it unfold of Gaza in July 2014. Once again, I transformed radio archive into noise and electronica and took my shards and drones of sound from there. And once again I set out to initially evoke and then plunge the listener into the nightmare of Gaza under siege through the very noisemaking machine many have in kitchen and car: the radio.

I wanted to make the listener actually listen intently; to make radio a presence, not something just “on” in the background, just “company”, a pleasant noise in the kitchen or car that helps pass the time.
So I set out to address the magical listener situated-in Dublin, in Paris, in in Berlin-wherever. Whomever. There, in say some remote country retreat, or downtown in some bustling metropolis; there, where, though the styles were vastly different, the news was the same: Gaza is being obliterated.

I therefore used the tropes of day-to-day radio, radio that is barely black and barely white, pallid; and all because it is “company/noise” for the so-called listener; that radio which is capable of a rainbow of colours and meanings, albeit here most of them are blood-stained.

Technically at times I drew on the soaked reverbs so beloved of Muzak, to mimic its masking of the actually disturbing nature of vast shopping centres’ with their cavernous acoustics, blazing lights, “food centres” that are nicely designed troughs, and the grind of elevator, moving stair and so on-these themed anonymous spaces, where, lest we forget, there is always the noise of piped syndicate media.

Radio and television, whether we like it or not, are still the underlining to our walking dreams and nightmares-and I used them as the underlining,
the newsreels of bricks and mortar of our remembered reality, when we do remember it. We are history, though we do our best not to be actually within it. It is amazing-we spend most of the present moment somewhere else, anywhere else-so try here, Gaza, Summer, 2014-where the nightmare renders itself.

I believe in immersion in listening. I don’t want to hear a piece, I want to listen to it. I don’t want to think this is scary, I want to be terrified by it, I don’t want to dance, I want to suddenly find myself dancing. Beckett put it best: “No’s knife in Yes’s wound”.  That’s what fuels the machine-guns towards the end of part II, which I hope ends up being less about representing any event as having a concrete attritional effect on us. I don’t want the listener to just hear it, but feel it by the end, and feel it wearing one down, to a point where one does not emerge out of it feeling morally “stronger” and indignant, but somehow weaker and more vulnerable.

Genealogy is grey, meticulous, and patiently documentary. It operates on a field of entangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over and recopied many times.

-Michel Foucault developed Nietzsche’s ideas and the concept of “origins” suggesting that those clinging to such a concept assume “…a world of forms preexisting the world of accident and succession”. Origin, muses Foucault, suggests a lofty beginning -a before-the-Fall scenario, a realm of gods; but origins are in fact lowly, even derisive.
I was struck by the endless repetitions of history and particularly the waves of violence that buffet every century, destructive sweepings so well plotted by the likes of Nietzsche and Foucault.

But one doesn’t have to read the likes of Nietzsche or Foucault to witness just how relentlessly such illusions wring themselves out in times of war, such destructive energies, such terror, such a release yet again of the savage bull and, in the end, a work like this for me personally is about being accountable. If someone asks me: what were you doing in the summer of 2014? I was watching the World Cup initially, and enjoying the football; but then weeping over Gaza. And what did you do about it? I went on anti-war marches, was accused of being anti-Semitic and made these pieces.

Bernard Clarke