Projects / Art Works

Nocturn: The Waco Re-enactment (2004)

Nocturn: The Waco Re-enactment, 2004, Rod Dickinson

Live event and subsequent video documentation, software version of the event and Photographs

Commissioned By Vivienne Gaskin


Nocturn: The Waco Re-enactment was initially a live event made with the Institute Of Contemporary Art in London on 16th September 2004. It was commisioned by the then Director of Live Art, Vivienne Gaskin.

160 audience members were taken by coach to a remote sports ground outside of London and subject to a recreation of the psychological warfare audio that FBI used during their siege of a religious community in 1993.

The audience were chaperoned on buses by uniformed guards. The sports stadium was lit 60 1000 watt lights and stadium lighting focused on the audience who trapped in the stadium.

On the 28th February 1993, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) launched a disastrous raid on the Branch Davidian religious community in Waco Texas. A 51 day siege followed which culminated in the deaths of almost all the Davidians when their church, Mt Carmel, caught fire after being gassed with CS for over six hours by the FBI.

During the siege the FBI used psychological warfare tactics against the Davidians: So called "Psychotronic" warfare, a form of sensory deprivation which involved blasting the Davidian's buildings with loud, continuous audio and bright light. The audio included the sound of babies crying, Nancy Sinatra singing 'These Boots are Made for Walking, The sound of helicopters circles and Slaughtered rabbits screaming.

Using first-hand testimony from interviews with survivors and academic researchers, the event recreated some of these original sounds, which included babies crying, circling helicopters, high pitched rabbit screams and dentist drills. The reconstructed audio was broadcast at 100 decibels to the audience who were temporarily trapped in the stadium.

Review Snippets:

Artist Rod Dickinson's partial re-creation begins with a strong sense of unease. Stern men dressed in police-state black herd us into coaches, hand out lists of rules and ferry us from the ICA to an "undisclosed location" ...

The first sound is the chukka-chukka of circling rotor blades. Next there are Tibetan prayer chants, amplified to an eerie boom, yet more restful than intimidating. Some people sit on tyres, eyes closed; some stroll around the track. A stark, metallic beep kicks in like a Dalek's car alarm, and hands are hurriedly clapped to ears.

Unexpectedly, Nancy Sinatra's These Boots Are Made for Walkin' blasts out, gradually slowed down to a menacing psychedelic growl. The brass becomes acid-bright, the drums as huge and swampy as a dinosaur in a tar pit. It's brilliant. The FBI should release it.

The Guardian, Dorian Lynskey, Saturday September 18, 2004

Ferried by coach to a secret location outside London, the audience will experience artist Rod Dickinson's hour-long, son et lumiere reconstruction of the disastrous 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian church at Waco, Texas. The 51-day standoff ended on 19 April with 80 dead, including 17 children. Throughout, the besieged families were subjected to a barrage of noise at a punishing 110 decibels - roughly the level of a jet taking off.

It's this hellish collage, constructed using archival sounds edited together on a computer, that forms the core of Dickinson's project: circling helicopters, crying babies, screaming rabbits, Tibetan chanting, phone taps of leader David Koresh speaking to FBI negotiators and, infamously, Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walking".

Dickinson wants tonight's audience to come away with a better understanding of how modern warfare is conducted. Since 1989, when Panama's General Noriega was blasted with rock and pop sounds from Rick Astley to Judas Priest, sonic attacks have played an increased role on the battlefield and, it seems, in prisons.

Shortcuts, The Guardian G2, Mark Pilkington, 16 September 2004


15 Min video of the Performance