As anyone who’s lived in an urban apartment knows, it’s nearly impossible to turn off your sense of hearing. Plug your ears, and you can still feel vibrations echoing in your head. Knowing this, US soldiers in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay have used popular music to “break” detainees into giving up information. Pundits tend to focus on the absurdity of using the theme song from the kids shows Barney and Sesame street as an interrogation technique, but Martin Cloonan writes for the New Humanist, “musical torture is far from being a laughing matter.”
Music as a weapon is often characterized by an “assault on identity and the lack of control,” Cloonan writes. He points out that British soldiers used white noise to attack Republican detainees in Northern Ireland, and classical music is still being played in various public places to keep young people from congregating. While researching music in neighborhood conflicts, Cloonan found, “Often what began as a request to turn sound down escalated into another form of sonic warfare, resulting in court injunctions and physical violence – including murder.”
Bands like Rage Against the Machine and Massive Attack are pushing back against the torturers, showing support for the Zero dB campaign, aimed at banning music for the purposes of torture. Jonathan Mann, on the other hand, has used his music to call attention to the torture memos that were recently released. You can watch that below.