Posted on June 10, 2013 at 01:41 PM
Near the close of Ashes, protesters chant "the whole world is watching." As you sink into the mantra, you're transported to your living room, where you're watching police attempt to control an angry mob in front of the White House. It's 1996, and although you know it will be decades before anyone will know, you can't help but ask, how did we get here? Why are these protesters so angry? You feel like one of the millions witnessing the demonstration for the first time.
But it's 2013, and John Kreitzburg answers your questions through innovative production. Stripping audio from historical telecasts of protesters as well as statements from George Bush Sr. and Ronald Reagan, John collapses two decades of news into a portrait of AIDS activism and government negligence. His technique is poetic. Careful sampling and intuitive threading pairs distinct historical moments; we hear the angry mob while Reagan mocks their condition in a press conference a decade earlier. The interweaving is distinctly political, yet John, never including narration, skirts heavy-handedness. Rather, rich layers let us experience years of frustration.
Unfortunately, without narration, the scenes become hard to picture unless you're an expert on AIDS history and the Reagan and Bush Sr. Administrations. Moments drag between the first and second & third and fourth scenes, where even a seasoned listener will wonder where we are in time & place. I want to hear John tell me what the protesters are doing; I feel their emotion, but I want to see them spreading the ashes of AIDS victims on the White House lawn. Regardless, John's portrait tests the limits of how we listen to history on the radio, and I'm desperately waiting for his next experiment in sound. No doubt, John will take us into another moment where we'll tour history, garnering new understanding.