When distraught Army Private Chelsea Manning sent nearly three-quarters of a million classified government documents to WikiLeaks, then confessed as much to hacker Adrian Lamo, surely she had no inkling any of that would eventually transform into art. Composer Ted Hearne used the bureaucratic language from those files and the poetry of her chat transcripts to create The Source, an electronic opera that honors its subject matter. The show debuted at the The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in 2014, and the New York Times later hailed the recording as “one of the best albums of 2015.”
Song like “explosive hazard” feature lyrics about “zero damage” followed by drawn-out Auto-tuned voices singing “two civilians killed in action/three civilians wounded in action,” offering new context to these reports from the frontlines. Other tracks such as “I encrypt as much as I can” and the moving “s/as boy/as a boy” use phrases directly lifted from Manning’s online chats, illuminating her own personal identity battle: “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press… as a boy; the CPU is not made for this motherboard.” As a whole, the album is a pleasantly uncomfortable listen—challenging us to confront ideas of gender, war and music itself through dazzling fireworks of sound. This isn’t easy territory, but it was never meant to be.
While he’s tagged his work as “electroacoustic,” “classical,” and “experimental,” Hearne has said that he chose Bandcamp as a platform partially for its flexible categorizations. “The most annoying thing for any artist is that these giant services force you to be in a genre category. Bandcamp does not.”