Music and Torture

Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing pretty quickly. In the case of a municipality or Gov’t using music as torture, one must first go beyond the initial shock when imagining being bound and forced to listen to “Call Me Maybe” while being interrogated. It’s not necessarily the content of the music (although I am not the Guantanamo Bay DJ so I can’t be sure) but the presence of loud sound at an unwanted time.

In the case of music as torture, despite what artists like Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine have suspected (they filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out if it was their music and to what extent any music was being used to torture POW’s), it’s not the music that is being used as a  vehicle for torture, it’s the sound. If a loud sound is depriving someone of sleep (like a car alarm or a thunderstorm or a train in the distance), it doesn’t particularly matter what the sound is. So while there is a huge intrigue over which kinds of music is being used for torture, you could point the blame at any artist whose music employs the use of sound. (That’s pretty much all of them, if you’re keeping score). So, why is there so much intrigue about the use of music as a means of torture when there already are so many other methods of torture being used by governments? Because this is one method that people can sympathize with or humanize. It has an emotional pull when you imagine a song that you might enjoy, one that could make your day better and uplift you, being used for someone else’s demise. More so than when you take a shower and thank heavens you can shower under the water and not be forcibly placed under it while being waterboarded.

Music can become “torture” when it’s just not the kind of music you want to be hearing at that moment. One of the readings mentions a mall that would blast Frank Sinatra to keep unruly kids away. To these kids, being forced to listen to ol frankie blue eyes at a mall probably was a form of torture to them. But to a prisoner of war, deprived of sleep and harassed sexually and physically, it doesn’t make a difference which song is being used to torture them, whether it’s Pearl Jam or the Barney Theme Song or dubstep. The key is that there are sounds being manipulated to high volumes which keep them awake when they want to sleep. The torturous thing is taking something which usually is used for pleasure and leisure, either you play the music yourself to listen to it or you walk into a store that’s playing music and you choose to listen to it or possibly even enjoy it. But having no choice in the matter, being forced to listen (or being forced to do anything for that matter) can be torturous. This is one aspect of our Government’s treatment of POW’s in Guatanamo Bay that many musicians and music fans have paid attention to, but imho it is just one small facet of a much larger problem, which is that human beings don’t deserve to be tortured under any circumstances using any method, sonically or otherwise.

I’ll leave you with a Pearl Jam song that is very much not torturous. Just don’t blast it outside my window at 4am or I’ll confess to pretty much anything.

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2 thoughts on “Music and Torture

  1. I completely agree as well. Music is made for the enjoyment of the artist and the listeners yet we can get tired easily after listening to a song we really enjoy over and over and over again. This is why diversity is so important in music and why musicians themselves struggle to find a different sound because they are bored by their own music after listening to it again and again. The problem is that the government will use anything for torture and listening to a song over and over again would easily drive you insane and any big brother will use any tactics they can to get any information. Good song by the way.

  2. I think it’s so wrong for the government to attach torture to something that is so powerful and emotional as music. I love music and it helps me express what I’m feeling at the time or helps me feel how I want to feel. I listen to music while cleaning, cooking, showering, on the train, bus etc. One thing I thought about just now is that is it a form of torture when the song you once loved is outplayed or played too much by radio stations? … I know there are lots of songs that I now dread to hear because radios play it too much. I mean you have that choice of turning it off or changing the station but 9 times out of 10 the same song is on every other station as well. However I think it is a small form of torture.

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