Sunday, August 26, 2007

Do not instrumentalize music for torture.

The M-dialing musicologists have an excellent thread on the misuse of music for torture. The Society for Ethnomusicology has taken a formal position in opposition to this misuse. I believe that the SEM did not go far enough and condemn torture altogether, but it is still a bit shocking that none of the other music-scholarly societies have yet followed suit. Suzanne Cusick details the issue, here. I would add the appendix to Slonimsky's Music Since 1900 which documents earlier US government-sponsored research into the use of specific sounds with damaging physiological effects for military and police applications and note that the instrumentalization of music in psychological mechanisms -- trance and torture are examples -- does not rely on any qualities specific to a particular music other than the most broadly identifiable (repetition and amplitude, for example) and that when music is used in such a mechanism, it has a place-holding function and can be replaced by another music or even no music at all. Moreover, when a particular music has been misused for a mechanism intended to change behavior, then the music may acquire a permanent mechanical association with the behavior. Therefore the use of music in such mechanisms constitutes a fundamental devaluation of the music used. I trust that I need not comment on the implications of a cultural economy in which works of arts can be so devalued.

(Thanks to Chris Molla, for pointing out this thread.)

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