What is the Sound of One Flag Burning?

G Douglas Barrett’s new project What is the sound of one flag burning? responds to recent threats Donald Trump made to student protesters who burned American flags by pressing 50 vinyl records of an audio recording of his own flag burning event along with a B-Side ›remix‹ by Hong Kong artist Samson Young. He’s currently crowdfunding the records with a Kickstarter campaign that began on January 20, 2017, the day of Trump’s inauguration.

What is the Sound of One Flag Burning? combines political demonstration with philosophical reflection on recording technology. In December 2016 Barrett created a high quality sound recording of a public flag burning in response to rising neo-national sentiment in the US and in light of the incoming president’s threats to imprison those responsible for a similar event. Culminating in a 50-edition vinyl record, the project asks: to what extent can sound reliably evidence acts of transgression?

The project suggests a double homage: Firstly, to American artist Dread Scott’s 1988 What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag?, a work that invited participants to step on an American flag and which prompted President Bush Senior’s support of legislation that subsequently prohibited such acts. Secondly, the project alludes to Iannis Xenakis’s 1958 work Concrete PH, a musique concrète composition that consists entirely of the sound of a single burning ember.

The global movement to #resistTrump

While reflecting on the political environment of the historical present, the project subtly provokes philosophical questions around recording technology and musique concrète. Particularly, through his notion of acousmatics, composer Pierre Schaeffer imagined recordings as capable of removing all reference to a sound’s source. Yet if the sound of burning an American flag were to reliably figure as evidence of a legal infraction, would that not challenge Schaeffer’s phenomenal separation between essence and appearance?


50-edition Double-sided Vinyl Record
Side B: Remix by Samson Young

We will produce a 50-edition vinyl record featuring the original audio recording as Side A. Side B will contain a special ›remix‹ by composer and artist Samson Young. We will present the work at a concert event to be held in New York City on April 29, 2017, Donald Trump’s 100th day in office as president.

  • Side A: What is the sound of one flag burning? (Excerpt)
  • Side B: Samson Young remix – What would you give in exchange for your soul?

Pledge $50 or more to receive a copy of our 50-edition vinyl record, What is the Sound of One Flag Burning? Or choose one of six other pledge levels. Note that this record is a limited edition—we’re only making 50 copies—so reserve your copy while they last. Support challenging and experimental art with this small contribution to the global movement to #resistTrump.