Media Ghostings: A Para-human history of the Vietnam War

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The paper develops from our fieldwork at Ramasun Camp, in Udon Thani, Thailand, a signal interception unit for the Americans during the Vietnam War and one that now stands rewilded, waiting to be refurbished into an amusement park. We argue that much through this interrupted history, Ramasun has been haunted throughout, even when operational! During the Vietnam war Ramasun’s air was thick with electromagnetic waves that escaped human senses, discernible as paranormal, automatic inscriptions only on process screens. Drawing upon field and archive work in Ramasun, We look at these media hauntings as a site to think through the Vietnam war’s more-than-human im/perceptibilities. Hauntings – interruptions between the living and the dead, the present and the absent – consequently found their way into Operation Wandering Soul, an American psy-op that drew on the Vietnamese folk belief that troubled souls woefully haunt the air. Eerily mixed Buddhist chants, anecdotes by “dead” Viet Cong guerrillas and ambient sounds were blared from cassette players on roving soldiers to dissuade locals from joining the war. Through Sung Tieu’s video installation No Gods, No Masters (2017), which reconstructs the ghost tapes, we wish to enquire media hauntings also as questions of affect, persistence, and temporality. Through Wandering Soul we not only wish to probe the dense entanglements between the global military-industrial complex and local cosmologies, but also how sonic and affective hauntings became crucial sensory mechanisms for the US Army to attune to non-/para- human sensibilities. By way of speculatively closing in on the paper, we wish to posit the Ghost Tapes, 'broadcasted' from these mobile cassette players on soldiers roving across the fields, to, Filipino experimental ethnomusicologist Jose Maceda's sonic piece Cassettes 100 that similarly necessitates the fluid mobility of people with portable cassette players creating a sonic immersive piece off traditional sounds and instruments recorded from the Filipino fields. Between war and war-to-be (Maceda's piece was choreographed in 1971 right before the Martial Law in the country) we ask how our bodies choreographed in space, and how may mobile sounds be conjoined to the tropical forest , a space that with its cancerous growth and opaque densities confounds our visuality?

in special issue Cold War in South East Asia, in ACT Journal, edited by Seng Yu Jin.

 

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Left - Stills taken from 'Framing Territories', Geocinema,2018.Right - Still from Sung Tieu’s No Gods, No Masters