HarSMedia

Many thanks are due to all of our fans, supporters, listeners and hosts, in Allentown (PA), Washington DC and Williamsburg, New York. You made DIKTAT's recent short American trip an unforgettable - social and artistic - experience. I have been posting a series of short audio clips on the go, as part the SB's lo-(pro)fi(le) Audio Diary. What follows is the first in a series of more elaborate reflections, stories and observations, but an awful lot still remains to be told, to be seen and to be heard. Stay tuned!

Audio monitoring the Watergate Hotel
americana / 1.

october 20, 2012.

The habit of keeping track of the President's conversations on magnetic tape goes back - according to an entry on Wikipedia - to the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It continued (at least) until Richard Milhous Nixon's reign, who, in February 1971, had a (and this was the novelty) voice activated taping system installed in a number of White House rooms (including, of course, the Oval Room).

It no longer was necessary for someone to push a button.

In Nixon's White House, sounds above a certain threshold were captured by telephone line-taps and small lavalier mikes, hidden at various spots around the rooms, and written onto tapes running on hundreds of Sony TC-800B tape machines [! - that is an awful lot; I can only take it to mean that each microphone had its own recorder]. All of these recorders - or so the story goes - eventually were turned off in July 1973, after the existence of the White House taping system had been revealed as part of the Watergate hearings.

I have no clue as to whether in later years US Presidents re-installed similar systems to register vocal and other sounds that accompanied their terms. Maybe they did, maybe they did not. It is not excluded that in some dark White House vault still lie resting the voice activated sound recordings of cigar smoking sessions in the Oval Room, way back in Bill Clinton's days. Maybe they do. Or maybe they don't.

Oh well, whatever, nevermind. Though many of our fans will still remember Bill's cigar, I'm afraid that most of you are way too young to first-hand recall 1970's stuff like 'big nose Nixon' and the 'Watergate scandal' that in the end led to Richard M.'s resignation as President, and to the suffix -gate becoming synonymous with all kinds of (political) scandals, not only in the US of A.

Watergate's a long and twisted story (that has been written elsewhere and elsewhere, again and over again). Much of our interest here, comes from the crucial role the White House tapes played in the affair: the tapes contained recordings of conversations that proved the White House's (and the President's) involvement in a burglary of the Democratic National Committee's headquarters, on the sixth floor of the Watergate Hotel and Office Buildings in Washington, D.C.

Despite his understandable reluctance and earlier refusal, Nixon eventually was forced to hand the tapes over as evidence.

But not without having tampered with them.

White House recorder and tape

Most notably, there's a 18½ minutes gap on tape 342, and this picture of the President's secretary Rose Mary Wood's re-enactment of the way in which she accidentally erased part of its content (but not, she has always insisted, a 18½ minutes part...)

Rose Mary Woods

On Saturday September 29th, the bright, warm and sunny morning of the day after our performance at the Sonic Circuits Festival, this fine but nearly forgotten chapter in contemporary (tape) history was the reason that with Diktat we left our Bethesda Marriott Suites to the cleaning staff, and set out for the Watergate Complex in Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood, where, 40 years ago, the infamous burglary that led to Nixon's downfall had taken place.

Here are a couple of pictures that show you what the former Watergate Hotel looks like today: empty and abandoned, awaiting renovation and rehabilitation.

Watergate Hotel
Watergate Hotel
Watergate Hotel

The Watergate Hotel itself was not the lieu of the Watergate burglary. That was the Watergate Office Building next door. But on that Saturday morning the former hotel, empty and in sort of a desolate state, formed the perfect background for a short Diktat Watergate Memorial guerrilla performance.

Diktat Watergate Hotel

Jean Bordé prepared the Dikta-bass that Daniel Barbiero had been so kind as to borrow him for our peregrinations in and around DC, and that the other day, coming from Allentown (PA), we had picked up at Daniel's place in Silver Spring. Rinus, Rébus and myself took a handful of Dikta-phones and a selection of cassette tapes out of our Dikta-bags and -cases. There were and awful lot of birds singing, and every now and then a helicopter or plane came flying low overhead.

Then Rébus installed his Dikta-camera.

Diktat Watergate Hotel

All alone, observed only by the surveillance's and Rébus's digital eyes, we embarked around noon upon another one of the curious Dikta-dances that have become our specialty and one of the main reasons for continuing to be Diktat.

Diktat Watergate Hotel

Over the years, from the Scheveningen beach, via Marinus Boezem's decaying public sound art work in Breda, on to Berlin and the Watergate Hotel, our out-side interventions have continued to follow a similar pattern of setting up, dancing, packing and leaving. They are short sonic rituals, whose atmosphere and precise content is dikta-ted by the peculiarities of the time and place (the when and where of their execution) and spiced by the contingent nature of the local sound scape. All of the Dikta-dances have an undeniable, yet unintentional, shamanic edge. You will see Rinus swirling and swaying his little cassette machines, at times hitting thin air with a speed, fervour and force that'll make you wonder whether he's not out there chasing flies; or shaking his Dikta-thang, ferociously, as in preparing yet another exclusive cocktail for the band. You'll find us ritually repeating little steps (two forwards, three back, a step to the right, then two to the left), or tiptoeing in circles, moving dictaphones back and forth low above the ground, sowing our invisible - but audible - grains. There's Rébus solemnly standing and spreading his arms, like a Dikta-pope blessing his Dikta-flock, while I'm crawling around on my knees, rhythmically bending, in worship of an unnamable Dikta-god...

Watergate Hotel
Watergate Hotel
Watergate Hotel

No audio recording, nor video registration, will ever be able to capture the utter strangeness, the spatiality and as-if-composed choreography of a Dikta-dance. It is done, and then it's gone. What remains is mere projection, mere documentation. Still, you might enjoy and get some sort of an impression from the recording of our Watergate Hotel performance, made with a Zoom that was at the approximate center of our circle of action. Maybe mix it with the sound of the gap on Watergate tape number 342, and then judge for yourself: did Diktat manage to exorcise the Watergate ghosts, and fill Richard & Rose Mary's gap?


We already had packed and were ready to move, when I noticed this little sticker of a company named Louroe Electronics in the far lower left corner of one of the glass doors of the entry to the former lobby of the Watergate Hotel:

Diktat Watergate Hotel

It was, ladies and gentlemen, the cherry on our Watergate cake ...

next: Speculative Dancing

tags: diktat, washington, usa, watergate

# .430.

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