Phonar Task: Re-Framing The Past (BTF)

This task was the first part of three tasks to by set by Professor Fred Ritchin relating to the ideas explored in his book Bending The Frame. The brief for the task is as follows…

“Tell the story of an historical news event. Use all of the available and appropriate “with hindsight” perspectives to make a version of the story which you feel is more accurate. Use sources that include witnesses from that moment in time”

With another anniversary of 911 prompting various TV Documentaries by Channel Four I found myself revisiting the events of that day and gaining knowledge that I didn’t previously have. I started thinking about 911 in relation to the Bending The Frame task and wondered what the world would be liked if 911 had never happened through hindsight, perhaps a tip off alerted the American authorities and they were able to stop it. Without a doubt 911 has been the prominent cause of the increased security in American and indeed in other more developed countries which could be targeted. There are many ways to look at 911 and many different perspectives to take, the one I wanted to take was imagining the world if the terrorist attack had never happened.

Once defining the subject of my response I needed to think about how it was going to take shape and what resources to use. One of the key concepts to think about 911 was the different elements that could be used in a narrative, digital photography has moved the image from print to screen and there are many different tools that can be used that weren’t on offer before. One of these elements is sound; we had already explored how effective an audio track can be through the first Phonar Task and I wanted to explore this element further. An interesting concept about 911 is the fact that nobody could seem to believe their eyes when the planes hit the towers and this was extended to complex theories suggesting the attacks were faked or staged. This made me want to work with sound even more as it was the most poignant thing about the attack; many people were hearing the news and hearing stories about what had happened and that sound was something that was remembered. With this in mind I decided to create a piece of audio which would reference the attacks and then explore the possibility of them never have happening.

I knew from the start that I would have to be using secondary resources as the audio from 911 is not something I could or want to recreate and re-record and it strayed away from the idea of the sound element being truthful. Therefore I starting researching on Youtube, looking for clips that demonstrated found footage of the events from citizens and the audio from news channels, these would form the basis of my soundscape. I sourced the audio from the clips and saved them onto my computer, keeping a list of the YouTube videos I had used to form a list of credits and a bibliography. I then opened them up into Premiere Pro and started marking out phrases of interest that I could use. I quickly built up a list of things to include which were:

  • Sound of the crash
  • News reporters claiming there has been an attack
  • Voices proclaiming a second plane
  • Various citizen reactions
  • The realisation some people were jumping
  • The collapse of the towers

Some of these elements I ruled out because of the quality of the clips, although I knew the audio wouldn’t be perfect quality I felt it took away from what it was meant to create, therefore I didn’t include the towers collapsing. I took the marked out audio and placed them into the timeline to start building up a soundscape of the 911 attacks. I decided to keep the narrative linear as the sound piece itself is a quite experimental concept in itself and I didn’t want to destruct the story of the attacks that many people know and associate with. I wanted the listener to engage with the sound and know immediately what is was about regardless of having any visual aids. I sourced audio clip of continuous sirens to put underneath the whole soundscape as this I feel was the main sound that occurred throughout the attacks as the services tried to help. In addition to the base track I layered the other audio clips over the top of one another to try and recreate the feeling of disorientation that the viewers and listeners must have felt when they first heard about the attacks when confronted with all the information.

After creating the soundscape of 911 I then needed to provide some audio which would fulfil the brief of the task and encourage people to speculate as to what the world would be like if it hadn’t taken place. I decided to write a scripted news broadcast and record it with my own voice, the script detailed that on the day destined to be the day of 911 President Obama made the choice to ground all planes flying to and from America based on a security threat. The idea behind this was that the agencies in america such as the NSA or the CIA managed to intercept information about the attack and as a result was able to prevent it. I watched several BBC news headline broadcasts and tried to replicate the structure and the language so that when the listeners of the piece heard my voice they would associate it with that of a news broadcaster. I recorded this and put it into Premier Pro to be heard after the soundscape; the reasoning for this was I wanted people to remember the events of 911 first and then reflect on it, not the other way around.

The last element I included was a title screen at the end with the words “Reframing 911”, a phrase which became the title. The bit of text would provide the viewer with a bit of incite as to what the piece was about and what it was informed by. I then exported the file and uploaded it to YouTube, I chose YouTube over Vimeo as I wanted to reference YouTube’s growing status as a broadcaster of news. In the description I added the bibliography and a brief description of the idea behind it, I would then later add the url of this blog post so that people could read more. The video can be seen below:

I shared the video through Twitter with the Phonar hashtag and sought feedback from the Phonar community. I received feedback though a Tweet which can be seen below:

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 13.10.05

I responded to this Tweet with:

I was thinking about it, but wanted to go off the photography for your ears concept and just do a soundscape because I think the images of 911 are ingrained into peoples memory, it only takes sound to bring them back again and if I included images it would confirm it happened whereas wanted it to be a premonition as to what could have been.

This response was met with the following tweet:

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 13.10.18

This was an interesting point; although the title in the YouTube video seems extremely necessary to me at the time, it occurred to the that the title and the description in the platform that is displaying the video would be enough to inform the viewer as to what it was about. Therefore I decided to try and export the audio from the video as an audio file in order to upload it to Soundcloud: a platform that caters to sound. The audio can be found below:


I think that this piece is quite effective, it draws on the notion of using sound and focusing on how important sound can actually be. For me listening back to this piece after a small length of time I saw pictures of 911 in my head and the concept behind it has me constantly reflecting about the security of the world now because of this terrorist attack. It has really taught me to consider the use of sound in my pieces, Stephen Mayes and Fred Ritchin have reflected about the capacity for new media and I believe that as publishers of images and information we need to alter and adapt our practise to suit the needs of the digital audience. This also references the ideas of Shahidul Alam who is constantly adapting to keep creating social change in his practise. Interactivity is all about engaging the audience and to do so the producer must create an audiovisual piece which will allow the viewer or reader to take part in their own discovery of news. In addition to this Fred Ritchin speculates about the potential area of proactive photography or peace photography, part of this medium would include projects that cause the reader to think about the world that we live. I think my project loosely references this concept as although it refers to an act of war, it encourages the listener to consider the world they live in and the safety they feel now because of the event.



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