The Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra | The Torture Memos

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The Torture Memos

by The Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra

Using actual texts from the Bush administration's infamous "Torture Memos", we explore the chilling banality of evil, in music that draws on diverse influences Philip Glass, Billie Holliday, Kurt Weill, and Schubert. Plus a dash of Michael Moore.
Genre: Avant Garde: Modern Composition
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  Song Share Time Download
1. You Have Asked Us To Address
2:40 $0.99
2. The Interrogators Remove The Hood
2:40 $0.99
3. This Sensation Is Based Upon A Deeply Rooted Physiological Response
3:50 $0.99
4. The Ultimate Question Is
1:55 $0.99
5. Technique
3:11 $0.99
6. Medical Personnel Are On The Scene
2:35 $0.99
7. Drawing Distinctions Between Gradations Of Pain Is Not An Easy Task
1:30 $0.99
8. Good Faith
3:51 $0.99
9. Self Defense
2:38 $0.99
10. Authority
2:12 $0.99
11. Please Let Us Know If We May Be Of Further Assistance
3:46 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
What are the Torture Memos?

The “torture memos” is a collective name applied to a series of documents produced by the United States’ Office of Legal Council (OLC) between 2002 and 2005. These documents attempt to establish a legal and moral justification for what the Bush administration euphemistically described as “enhanced interrogation techniques”, which includes forced nudity, prolonged sensory deprivations, extremely painful stress positions, “walling”, and waterboarding. The memos are striking for their clinical analysis of pain (establishing pseudo-scientific boundaries between “acceptable” and “severe” pain) for their authoritarian ethos (in no.10: “we will not read a criminal law as infringing on presidential authority”); and most notably for their schizophrenic wavering between pompous brutality (see no.5: technique) and an almost touching attempt to achieve absolution through the desperate manipulation of word-definitions (see no.8: good faith).

With their release in the spring of 2009, the Torture Memos have provoked some extremely difficult questions about individual and collective responsibility, citizens’ right to know about and influence the actions their government is undertaking “on their behalf”, and the moral limits of what defines decent, necessary, or acceptable behavior. These documents, their authors, and the administration that fostered their work have been condemned by the international community, the press, and organizations concerned with human rights for having committed and condoned torture. Currently, the new Obama administration has refused to prosocute anyone involved.

Find out more about the Torture Memos here:

Or, even better, read them for yourself:

What is this recording?

This recording is a collection of eleven pieces of music performed by my band, The Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra. The text for each song is – with one exception – taken directly and unadulteratedly from the OLC documents. I chose the text after studying the documents intensely, attempting to identify their key points and the underlying framework of quasi-narrative logic, and then condensing the several hundred pages down to a series of eleven coherent fragments. In doing so, I took great care to not take anything out of context in any way other than isolating and excerpting phrases; by which I mean that the meaning of any particular word or phrase isn’t altered by being placed next to other words or phrases. The resulting text is incontrovertibly true to the author’s intended meaning – only perhaps more direct and obvious by the fact that the most poignant phrases have been condensed and much meaningless jargon omitted.

In the same way that it would be disingenuous to alter the intentions of the text, we’ve made an effort to not impose an artificial moral message on the text by our musical presentation of it. So we’ve made a conscious effort, once the process of assembling the text was done, to ignore the context these blocks of words were derived from. The musical aesthetic of each song originates from an tiny isolated pocket of words and ideas. Not from the Torture Memos as a whole; and not from the lyrics of the set as a whole. As a result, unexpected voices emerge: for example, no.7 “drawing distinctions among gradations of pain is not an easy task” is not ironic. Because those words are taken at face-value, presenting them through music brings out the possibility of deep and sincere regret subtly hidden in the cold depths of this legalize.

Why make this recording?

Because music is a special art form: there’s been a lot of thoughtful and important analysis of the Torture Memos text in journalism, radio, and television. But music may be the one medium in which it’s acceptable and valuable to allow the text of these documents to speak for itself. And, also, because having chosen to make myself aware of the situation surrounding these memos, it would be self-degrading to not respond to it.



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