Music as a weapon

When music attacks!  Is a not a documentary Really have commissioned as yet but I saw something covering the same dark topic on Al Jazeera –

Songs Of War

Imagine being forced to listen to Mnah Mnah on headphones for hours or days at a time at eardrum busting volume.  Insanity would be a likely outcome, and the US army knows that all too well.  This documentary looks into the psychology of music, human perception of it and reactions to it, and how it can be used as a device of torture or a motivational tool for trained killers.

This is a slightly different thing from sound as a weapon which has as shorter but equally ignoble history.  A team of French researchers led by Vladimir Gavreau discovered how ultra strong sound waves at very low frequencies (>20 Hz) could disable or kill.  He posited a weapon that generated and directed intense blasts of infrasound and could kill at a distance of several miles.  So why didn’t the generals and majors leap to it cranking up the noise?  Simply, such a weapon is too dangerous to operate as it is not the audible spectrum that kills but the extreme sound pressure.  Sound waves get longer and more powerful the lower the frequency.  Infrasound is indiscriminately deadly because the human body is pulverised by the impact of very low amplified sound and it goes through walls and armour plate and stuff.  To use it you would have to adopt the same precautions as a nuclear bomb i.e. be a long way away in a reinforced bunker.  So the sonic doomsday weapon stayed on the drawing board though in a scaled back guise, it has still found its way onto the battlefield as compact super-powered speakers intended to deafen and disorientate.

But can you get Smooth FM on it?

For the more intimate business of torturing prisoners music is used as the weapon.  It involves not simply brute volume but also dissonances, tritones, looped repetition, aspects of music that the brain can’t help but find unpleasant.  Something as simple as cutting up soothing classical music digitally and reassembling it then overlaying random white and pink noise can cause your brain to see-saw between some kind of recognition and fearful recoil.  Simple, childish music repeated over very long periods can lock the brain into a simple processing loop and at sufficient volume, stops you from “hearing yourself think”.  You simultaneously become sensitized and stupified.  This was at least part of the motivation for selecting Sesame Street music for the Gitmo jukebox.

Music may be one of the crowing achievements of human creativity but it’s very ubiquity makes it a potential weapon.  It was ever thus – and as I always like to end on a glib note here is my solitary confinement playlist from hell: this little lot on repeat should net you the names of the rest of the cell no bother.

Crazy Frog/Barbie Girl/No Way/Disco Duck/Teletubbies/Doop/Swagger Jagger/From A Distance/I Will Always Love You/Achy Breaky Heart/Saturday Night/Umbrella/Lady In Red/Tubthumping/Ketchup Song/You’re Beautiful/Orville’s Song/Barbados/Naughty Naughty Naughty/No Charge/Watcha Say/Mr Blobby/Hocus Pocus/Anyone Can Fall In Love/Ruff Mix/Pleasemake itstopi’lltellyoueverything


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