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Acoustic Weapons

Imagine you’re confined to a dark, windowless space, and a piece of music you find especially disagreeable is piped into the room at a volume so piercing it seems to be throbbing inside you. You might call this excruciating. Now imagine the music on a round-the-clock loop, with no indication of when or whether it will stop, and no escape. You might call this torture.

That’s how Binyam Mohamed spent his time in the secret CIA-run prison outside Kabul, where he was forced to listen to Eminem and Dr Dre, without pause, for 20 days. He’s just one of possibly thousands of detainees in the ‘war on terror’ who have been subjected to protracted, lacerating barrages of heavy metal, gangsta rap, disco (the Bee Gees’ ‘Stayin’ Alive’) and numbingly repetitive children’s tunes (Barney the Purple Dinosaur’s ‘I Love You’) – what American military interrogators call ‘futility music’.

There’s some debate as to whether this practice is a form of torture (as the UN Committee against Torture decided in a 1997 ruling against Israel’s practice of keeping Palestinian prisoners awake for days with loud music) or of ‘inhuman and degrading’ treatment (as the European Court of Human Rights decided in the case of the RUC’s use of white noise against IRA prisoners in the 1970s). In both cases it’s forbidden under international law. In the last year or so a movement to ban this practice has attracted the support of a number of artists whose work has been on the interrogation playlist, including David Gray, Massive Attack and Rage against the Machine. Reprieve, the group that provides legal representation for detainees at Guantánamo, has joined with a group of musicians to form Zero dB, an initiative whose goal is ‘to end the suffering caused by music torture’. Read more (via London Review of Books)


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July 2018
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