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Boosey & Hawkes (Hendon Music)

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Composer's Notes

Sing Sing: J. Edgar Hoover for string quartet and pre-recorded sound was commissioned by Kronos Quartet. The first performance was given by Kronos Quartet on January 23, 1993 at the Vic Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. My composition is about the man who directed the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation virtually unchallenged from 1924 until his death in 1972.

My composition opens with one of J. Edgar Hoover's favorite mottoes: “The FBI is as close to you as your nearest telephone.” This “reassurance” to the American public also served to authorize his systematic invasion of their privacy: for Hoover, the telephone became an instrument for playing out his lifetime obsession with collecting sensitive information for his so-called “secret files.” Throughout his 48 years as director of the FBI, Hoover ordered the wiretapping of the telephones of movies stars, gangsters, presidents, civil rights activists, politicians, communist sympathizers, entertainers, and anyone who opposed his own political and moral agenda.

For me, the motto offers an opportunity to listen in on Hoover’s voice, and to manipulate it for my own compositional purposes. The telephone, like the digital technology I have used, mediates voice so that it is both distant and near. I wanted to bring the dead voice of J. Edgar Hoover back to a posthumous life through technology, so that it may “sing” of its own death. I created the tape part by digitally sampling bits of actual historical speeches delivered by Hoover from 1941 to 1972, to such diverse audiences as the American Legion, Boys’ Club of America, and the FBI National Academy.

It was eerie to be the first person to hear these tapes since they were made available to the public. I composed string parts to “sing along” with Hoover, in order to convey my sense of Hoover’s grim, threatening, yet darkly comic personality. The part played by the string quartet is also inspired by sounds associated with the FBI, such as sirens, American patriotic songs, and machine gun syncopations. The quartet therefore creates another context for hearing Hoover’s own words: “I hope that this presentation will serve to give you a better knowledge and a deep understanding of YOUR FBI.”

—Michael Daugherty


Recordings obtained from the J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I tapes at the National Archives in
Washington, D.C. through the Freedom of Information Act.

We are as close to you as your telephone

J. Edgar Hoover:

I hope that this presentation will serve to give you a better

knowledge and deeper understanding of your F.B.I.

We are as close to you as your telephone.

Get your hands up!

F.B.I Agent:

F.B.I.! Get your hands up! The charge is murder!

Look at your watch

J. Edgar Hoover:

Look at your watch this morning

as it ticks off twelve seconds–

A murder every forty-six seconds…

there is a burglary or assault to kill each seven minutes, a robbery–

Every hour a major crime has been committed somewhere in these United States–

another serious crime is added to the nation’s total.

The growing menace of communism
Radio Announcer:

The growing menace of communism arouses the House of Representatives Un-American

Activities Committee. Among the well-informed witnesses testifying is J. Edgar Hoover,

head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Hoover speaks with authority on the subject.

J. Edgar Hoover:

Communism / The enemy / Nikita Khrushchev / Deadly menace /

Communists and their dupes / play it dirty or you’re not a communist /

Atheistic communism / enemy of the American people /

I thank you.

Personnages à longues Oreilles

J. Edgar Hoover:

The F.B.I: Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity.

The world is witnessing a giant ideological battle. A battle for the hearts, minds, and souls

of men, women, and children. The communists desire to destroy our cherished liberties and

establish a dictatorship. They are working to make this nation part of a world communist empire.

This is the danger which we face today. The time has come for Americans to wake-up!

We can, and will, win this battle. The stakes are high. We cannot afford to lose. If the communists

take control, our entire civilization will be destroyed and mankind will be rolled back to barbarism.

Very often the question is asked, “What can I, as one citizen, do to defeat communism?”

My answer is that you can do a lot.

Keep it a secret

J. Edgar Hoover:

Keep it a secret / Open the files of the F.B.I.

The land of the free…

Brainwashed /

and the home of the brave…

the American people / Abraham Lincoln / moral decay / they zig and zag / Reds!

Mobsters! / Parasites! / President Kennedy / moral decay / Dread swastika of the Nazis /

America / Keep it a secret

Open the files of the FBI / Keep it a secret /

The greatest concentration of communist workers have been found in three fields in the United States…

in education, unions and entertainment. It is disheartening that more young people appear to know the

words of popular soap jingles than the meaningful words of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Star-Spangled Banner

J. Edgar Hoover and crowd at American Legion convention (ca. 1963):

Oh, say can you see…

Fear silences the voice /

What so proudly we hailed…

Fear silences the voices of protest /

Whose broad stripes and bright stars…

O’er the ramparts we watched…

Fear silences the voices of protest /

And the rockets’ red glare…

There is no place in America for vigilantes, rabble rousers, the lunatic fringe /

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there…

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave…

Fear silences the voice of our society /

Home of the brave…


J. Edgar Hoover:

Fear silences the voice /

Ladies and Gentlemen

we cannot afford to lose.

There can be no compromise.

The F.B.I.

“He can’t get away with it!”

I thank you.

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