Thursday, February 8, 2007

Statement on music as torture

This week's Society for Ethnomusicology statement about the use of music for torture has reached the larger blogosphere. This posting on covers the main points:


Ethnomusicologists against music as torture

In 1989, US Psy Ops troops blared songs like "Voodoo Child" and "I Fought The Law" at Manuel Noriega's compound as an effort to induce surrender. The same kind of "acoustic bombardment" occurred at Waco and is reportedly used during POW interrogations too. According to this BBC News article, tunes from Sesame Street, Barney, and Metallica were popular Psy Ops picks in Iraq. Here's a paper on the subject by New York University music professor Suzanne Cusick that was published last year in Revista Transcultural de Música. Last week, the Society for Ethnomusicology published a position statement "against the use of music as torture." From their document:

The U.S. government and its military and diplomatic agencies has used music as an instrument of abuse since 2001, particularly through the implementation of programs of torture in both covert and overt detention centers as part of the war on terror.

The Society for Ethnomusicology
* calls for full disclosure of U.S. government-sanctioned and funded programs that design the means of delivering music as torture;
* condemns the use of music as an instrument of torture; and
* demands that the United States government and its agencies cease using music as an instrument of physical and psychological torture.


Suzanne is one of my advisors. She also rocks my world. I highly recommend her article on music and torture; in fact, the whole Trans journal is well worth a look, though much of it is in Spanish. My primary advisor Ana was this issue's guest editor--and she too rocks my world. Lots of that going around lately! This issue actually came out a few weeks ago, not last year (although Suzanne presented a version of that paper at the AMS conference in LA last November).


Rob said...

Man. More evidence that our leaders are in league with the forces of darkness. As if it weren't enough to subvert the system of checks and balances, trash the Bill of Rights, legitimize torture, wage illegal war, and generally dumb down the level of political discourse. If I knew my music was being used this way, I'd probably do something I'd be arrested for even describing here. Thanks for these links.

T said...

You're very welcome. I believe The Guardian also has a good article on music and torture.

But the thing is, our leaders--and the plural form is crucial here--have been working on this for decades, so as much as I detest current regime, there's nothing new under the sun.

On the SEM list this morning, someone had an excellent point that while SEM claims to be an international institution (however feeble these claims may be), the statement only addresses US use of music for torture, and by extension, only US use of torture. I'll be curious to find out if--and how--they reword the statement.

Jenny said...

I wonder, too, about the future possibility of full policy disclosure regarding music and torture. What role will rhetoric play if and when the US military owns up to these crimes? Will the (perhaps illusory) distinction between "music" and "sound" (or "music" and "noise" or "infrasound") be employed in any attempts to validate these actions? SEM, a musical institution, can condemn the use of "music" (broady defined, but still delimited) as torture, but at what point do allowances for acoustic weaponry become license for soldiers (yes, soliders! Cusick talks about this...) to decide that James Hetfield's snarling baritone qualifies as "noise" rather than "music"?

An Briosca Mor said...

Not to disagree with the SEM's petition at all, but I look forward to the day when it's illegal to use anything as a torture device. I also would love to see the day when I'm hauled in to be tortured and the guy in the mask (who happens to bear a strong resemblance to Dick Cheney) says to me Today you will be hearing the first album by some group called Try-an.(*) Irish, I think, but whatever. It was the one on the top of the pile. The resulting scene would be somewhat akin to the Simpsons episode where Homer went to hell and his punishment consisted of being hooked to a conveyer belt that shot an endless stream of donuts into his mouth. The devil couldn't figure out why he kept asking for more, more, more.

(*) Brought to mind because yesterday Lesl was asking for the name of a tune on the Bloomfield board, and it turned out to be P.J. McComiskey's. So I pulled that CD off the shelf for today. Talk about rocking one's world...

T said...

Rocking one's world indeed! And agreed on the torture thing...still, I'm pleased that SEM has put out this statement, even though some of the membership are griping because we weren't consulted en masse. SEM has a reputation of being disturbingly apolitical, so this is a nice sign--even if one person on the listserve said something to the effect of, "Not all Americans disagree with torture." (I was surprised that someone would write that to a generally liberal group.)

An Briosca Mor said...

Well, that statement "Not all Americans disagree with torture" is, unfortunately, true. Because Bush, Cheney and their ilk are, when it comes down to it, Americans themselves. A fact which is torture for us real Americans, right?

Hmmm. How about proposing Bush reading his collected speeches aloud on tape as a torture device in lieu of music, at least until a complete ban on torture can be arranged? Works for me.

mmmqq said...

In some instances, music as torture is seemingly inevitable - take NGR's "When the Storm Is Over," for instance. Under what circumstances would this song not be torture?