The national warning system (air raid siren) is scheduled for future decommissioning. Although the planning is uncertain and it may still take years, I am hoping to perform a custom made composition as a swan song for the system.
This piece is intended to sound through all 4300 sirens of the Netherlands in the future - the sound enveloping and reaching everybody. Potentially, it could also be the largest sound artwork of the country.
A national warning system scheduled
for decommissioning. Maintenance is expensive as the system has been around for about 25 years and is nearing obsolence. Warning people through mobile phones is becoming the new standard and will eventually replace the trusty sirens. In a changing world, there is an ongoing debate around retirement of the siren. The Dutch siren system is still more effective and failsafe than cell broadcasting. The reach is bigger, the sound is recognizable. It even has its own mantra. In Dutch: ‘ga naar binnen, sluit ramen en deuren, zet radio of televisie aan’ [go inside, close windows and doors, turn on radio or television].
Why would you make swan song for technology? The siren plays a special role in daily life, our current system being a remnant of the Dutch welfare state from around the Cold War. It is related to the mechanical sirens and early warning systems from earlier world wars, and akin to warning entities of countries dealing with frequent natural disasters.
A siren is a centralized and collectivist sound with a fixed place in society, and take on a similar role as the church bells from the past. Sirens are a sound of control, regulation and safety. Both in peace and war, the sounding of sirens gives the listener a sensation of discomfort and fear. The sound is part of our immaterial cultural heritage.
The composition and performance of a swan song is a way of celebrating the siren and thanking this titan for years of service - it is the end of an era and the end of a certain way in which our society functioned.