Music

Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution

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In a fascinating post at the New Yorker's Goings On blog, Alex Ross describes how music has been used as a means of psychological warfare and torture from World War II to the present. A few examples:

At the end of 1989, when Manuel Noriega was barricaded inside the Papal Nuncio's residence in Panama City, American troops set up loudspeakers and subjected him to an unending stream of rock music, with a playlist favoring heavy metal. In 1993, during the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, the F.B.I. blasted Tibetan chants and other allegedly annoying sounds in an effort to break the will of the cult. The efficacy of these strategies is open to question; in the case of Waco, they were adopted against the advice of negotiators, and may only have hardened the cult's resolve.

Since the beginning of American operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, music has routinely been used during interrogations at Guantánamo and elsewhere. The playing of loud music, customarily hip-hop or heavy metal, is part of a standard procedure that the Department of the Army describes as "futility": "[The] collector convinces the source that resistance to questioning is futile. This engenders a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness on the part of the source."

Whole thing here.

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  1. I’d agree that crappy metal qualifies as torture, but hearing a few lines of dialogue from Sex and the City makes me want to pull my own head off. I suspect the Pentagon is studying this.

  2. A lame AC/DC reference? Someone needs to school Damon on proper headline construction.

  3. This engenders a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness…

    Shouldn’t they be using country and western music?

    You knew someone would say it.

  4. I would think that using Bjork would be the way to go.

  5. but hearing a few lines of dialogue from Sex and the City makes me want to pull my own head off

    I get that way after just seeing Sarah Jessica Parker’s horrific visage, so making it to some dialog qualifies you as one tough bastard.

  6. I suggest this as fantasy, not public policy, but…

    I think the appropriate punishment for Osama bin Laden is to be locked in a cell where he’ll be played “Kids Sing 101 Bible Gospel Hits” until he knocks out his own teeth to fashion a cutting instrument with which he can slit his own wrists.

    “Jesus wuvs me, yesh I know…” AAAAAAAAAAArghkhkhtphpht!!

  7. Don’t some shopping malls use “classical” C&W and/or “elevator” music as a (supposed) way to keep what they deem as inappropriately energetic groups of young folks from loitering in their vast retail caverns?

    Any info/guesses how effective this has been?

  8. And if I recall correctly, the Marines played Van Halen’s “Panama” repeatedly to annoy Noriega. Who says the jarheads don’t have a sense of humor?

  9. In 1993, during the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, the F.B.I. blasted Tibetan chants and other allegedly annoying sounds in an effort to break the will of the cult.

    “allegedly annoying”? Has this writer ever heard recordings from outside the compound during the siege? Yes, there was some music, but there were also periods where they blasted the compound with hours of constant dying animal noises. Keep in mind this went on 24 hours a day for days on end.

  10. I would think that using Bjork would be the way to go.

    sign me up for that kind of torture….

  11. In short, Alex Ross better not complain if his next door neighboor blasts music he doesn’t like for 24 hours a day this week.

  12. Don’t some shopping malls use “classical” C&W and/or “elevator” music as a (supposed) way to keep what they deem as inappropriately energetic groups of young folks from loitering in their vast retail caverns?

    Yes. And apparently it works

    After playing the classical music at the front of the store, reports of troublemakers and graffiti were dramatically reduced.

    “The fact that youths hang outside the store is not a crime in itself, but the perception among staff and customers is that it is intimidating. It seems to make it a ‘less cool’ place to hang out if there is classical music playing,” said Hogarth.

  13. making it to some dialog qualifies you as one tough bastard

    I heard it at the doctor’s office this morning. My back was to the TV so I was spared the offending visage. But it was a promo of the new movie featured on (brace yourself) The Today Show. Or was it Good Morning America? Either way, this double whammy of insipid, estrogen-soaked twaddle made me crave a lethal injection.

  14. Why hasn’t anyone tried (or have they?) using the single most excruciatingly painful, impossible to ignore, sound known to man: a crying baby. I mysteriously manage to get seated one row in front of one on just about every flight and I cannot fathom how anyone could continue holding out if subjected to that tortuous cacophony for more than a couple hours.

  15. ed, my girlfriend wants to go see the movie, and we have been “reviewing” episodes in anticipation. Count yourself lucky that all you did was hear it in an office.

    However, I think we will have a gay friend go with her to the movie instead of me, so I may be able to dodge that estrogenic bullet.

  16. Maybe reading them New Yorker articles would do just as well.

  17. Brian,

    A rabbit getting eaten by an anaconda is way worse than a crying baby…

  18. Yes, there was some music, but there were also periods where they blasted the compound with hours of constant dying animal noises.

    i have that album. 7/10 if you’re into that sort of thing.

  19. Shouldn’t they be using country and western music?

    A fate worse than waterboarding…

  20. Maybe this could serve as a new business model for, say, Score Productions.

  21. Nine Inch Nails would also work.

    Either way.

  22. If they put me in a chair and made me listen to Mel Tillis or Yanni, I’d cave in seconds.

  23. A rabbit getting eaten by an anaconda is way worse than a crying baby…

    Perhaps… certainly nobody has ever sat behind me with a “motherfucking snake on a motherfucking plane” while it dines on live prey, but still I have a hard time believing it beats out hours of screaming baby.

  24. I have a hard time believing it beats out hours of screaming baby.

    That’s only because the bunny doesn’t last hours. Now, on recording, you could put it on a loop…

  25. How about an endless rotation of crying baby, barking dog, and ringing phone?

  26. Another time-honored technique is to just lock a prisoner in a room with their mother-in-law. Works fast, but is a violation of the Geneva Convention.

  27. Coldplay would lead to my immediate surrender.

  28. Yes, there was some music, but there were also periods where they blasted the compound with hours of constant dying animal noises.

    i have that album. 7/10 if you’re into that sort of thing.

    dhex wins the thread

  29. it is no secret that sounds can have an effect on people, even as far as being able to change peoples brain waves.

  30. I’d like to hear Bush singing a cover of Handlebars by the Flobots.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuK2A1ZqoWs

  31. I get that way after just seeing Sarah Jessica Parker’s horrific visage

    For once, I agree with you on a woman’s looks, Episiarch. Spot on – she could grate cheese with that face.

    Don’t some shopping malls use “classical” C&W and/or “elevator” music as a …way to keep what …young folks from loitering in their vast retail caverns?

    The local library did the same thing to clear out homeless loitering near the entrance. It worked.

  32. Anyone remember Billy Wilder’s comedy “One, Two, Three”?
    The East Germans used the song “Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” to extract a confession from someone.

  33. The crying baby is a product of evolution. The beast is hard-wired to produce frequencies guaranteed to get it the attention it craves. So how’s this for a nightmare: Crying baby at premiere of Sex and the City? The horror.

  34. oh forgot to mention Operation Wandering Soul during Vietnam, check that out, weird…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Wandering_Soul

  35. let’s kick it up a notch: the sex and the city movie on a giant screen with all the dialog replaced by crying baby sounds?

  36. ed – it would be a Godsend, b/c you could tell your girlfriend “I need to go to the lobby until the baby stops crying” then sneak into Iron Man for an hour or so.

  37. How about an endless rotation of crying baby, barking dog, and ringing phone?

    There’s a CD of my next-door neighbor?

  38. I think the appropriate punishment for Osama bin Laden is to be locked in a cell where …

    I think the appropriate punishment is to give him a sex change and turn him loose in some backwards Afghan village. It’s what Rod Serling would do with him, anyway.

  39. let’s kick it up a notch: the sex and the city movie on a giant screen with all the dialog replaced by crying baby sounds?

    And we’d notice the dialog change how, exactly?

  40. “Achy Breaky Heart” with the sounds of rabbits being slaughtered.
    That will single-handedly end all resistance.

  41. Speaking as someone who had to get up at 4 am to feed a crying baby last night, it’s still only the third worst sound. The second worst is a shrieking baby. The worst is shrieking Yoko Ono.

  42. An endless loop of Margaret Cho doing standup would also do the job.

  43. I get that way after just seeing Sarah Jessica Parker’s horrific visage.

    For once, I agree with you on a woman’s looks, Episiarch. Spot on – she could grate cheese with that face.

    Liars. You both know you’d do her. In a heartbeat.

  44. She has a face like one of those dried-apple witches.

  45. Liars. You both know you’d do her. In a heartbeat.

    Requirements: One bag, head-sized.
    Or, time machine: To take me back to year “Footloose” was released.

  46. Liars. You both know you’d do her. In a heartbeat.

    Don’t project your own desperation on to us, dude. She’s a harridan whose desperation to be sexy has always been thwarted by her atrocious facade. She has tried everything, from being thin, to being on a hit show, to wearing the latest fashion, but it just can’t compensate for the fact that she looks like a horse.

  47. She has a face like one of those dried-apple witches.

    And the hands to match.

  48. Sarah Jessica Parker and John Kerry walk into a bar…

  49. Sarah Jessica Parker and John Kerry walk into a bar…

    And the horse behind the bar says, “Hey, mom and dad. The usual?”

  50. And the horse behind the bar says, “Hey, mom and dad. The usual?”

    To which they say, in unison, “neigh”.

  51. Yoko Ono is lovely.

    A lame AC/DC reference? Someone needs to school Damon on proper headline construction.

    Warren,

    I’m pretty sure this is the same guy who was enumerating the merits of Toby Keith on a different thread last week. We may have a problem on our hands.

  52. And we’d notice the dialog change how, exactly?

    i don’t think crying babies make a lot of references to sex in your elder years.

  53. Hey John, why the long face?

    Sorry.

  54. let’s kick it up a notch: the sex and the city movie on a giant screen with all the dialog replaced by crying baby sounds?

    Better yet, pitch shift and loop the actual dialog so it has the same pitch and cadence as a crying baby, but retains all its inanity.

  55. Yoko Ono is lovely.

    Mmmmm, that’s good, dry, sarcas…wait, are you serious?

  56. “This engenders a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness…”

    Shouldn’t they be using country and western music?

    You knew someone would say it.

    I was going to suggest some of that “emo” the kids are listening to these days.

    Also, if I remember correctly, the most prominently featured song in the Noriega incident was “Welcome to the Jungle”

  57. At the end of 1989, when Manuel Noriega was barricaded inside the Papal Nuncio’s residence in Panama City, American troops set up loudspeakers and subjected him to an unending stream of rock music, with a playlist favoring heavy metal.

    I recall while watching it live that they used the Clash cover of “I Fought the Law” every time CNN played the street sound. Perhaps the CNN coverage did not give full credit to the variety of music being offered to Mr. Noriega.

    Oh, and since I did not notice anybody else mention, the usage of “torture” in place of discomfort is becoming so rampant as to cheapen real torture.

  58. Okay, so I looked at some SJP photos. Horse face and she ain’t that hot. Julia Roberts sister?

    But there’s a lot of that going around.

    The sexiest most gorgeous women on the face of this green earth are walking around just like the rest of us. Most of them are not on TV or in the movies.

  59. Episarch,

    Yes, I saw her in concert last summer in Chicago. She had some good tunes back when.

  60. Yoko Ono?

    And you guys are beating up Toby Keith?

  61. The sexiest most gorgeous women on the face of this green earth are walking around just like the rest of us. Most of them are not on TV or in the movies.

    The sexiest, most gorgeous woman on the face of this green earth is, right now, grooming a dog in Missoula, Montana. And I’ll see her in four hours.
    Awwwwwwwwwwww …..

  62. Yes, I saw her in concert last summer in Chicago. She had some good tunes back when.

    Smacky, you are female, right? So I can excuse the “Yoko is lovely” insanity.

    But “good tunes” is a whole other level of crazy.

  63. Oh, and since I did not notice anybody else mention, the usage of “torture” in place of discomfort is becoming so rampant as to cheapen real torture.

    Torture is anything you may do to tweak someone’s daily routine from the expected norm without their consent. It can mean pulling fingernails with a pair of pliers without anesthetic or it can mean making them listen to Yoko Ono’s caterwauling with the volume dialed to 10.

    It is an especially elastic term that has no definitive meaning in the modern world.

  64. smacky | May 29, 2008, 2:57pm | #
    Episarch,

    Yes, I saw her in concert last summer in Chicago. She had some good tunes back when.

    I humble myself before your mighty deadpan delivery. I don’t see how it’s possible to type that without bursting into flames, unless of course you have no soul.

  65. The sexiest, most gorgeous woman on the face of this green earth is, right now, grooming a dog in Missoula, Montana. And I’ll see her in four hours.

    No she’s not! She’s actually sitting at my dining room table with her laptop making reservations for a conference in Jackson Wyoming next month.

    🙂

  66. The sexiest, most gorgeous woman on the face of this green earth is, right now, grooming a dog in Missoula, Montana. And I’ll see her in four hours.

    Grooming a dog eh, is that what she told you? Suppose I’ve been called worse and besides, ‘doggy’ is not a totally inappropriate description of events either.

  67. a conference in Jackson Wyoming next month.

    A conference on cow shit?
    JK — I know it’s a nice place.

  68. Grooming a dog eh, is that what she told you? Suppose I’ve been called worse and besides, ‘doggy’ is not a totally inappropriate description of events either.

    The cool thing is that she thinks I’m at work “shaving a cat.”

  69. music has routinely been used during interrogations at Guant?namo and elsewhere

    After five minutes of Aaron Copeland, I would glady confess to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. And sinking the good ship Maine.

  70. So would Clay Aiken be the H-Bomb of Weapons of Musical Destruction?

  71. After five minutes of Aaron Copeland,

    Whoa. Are you calling “Appalachian Spring” bad music? Because if you are, I would like to take a dump in your mouth.

  72. It’s true she may not be the most capable singer, but Yoko definitely has her own sound that lends itself well to psychedelic rock. Also, listen to “Kiss, Kiss, Kiss” off of Double Fantasy and tell me it’s not catchy.

  73. Wasn’t there a study that showed how brain waves become erratic when people hear an iron claw being scraped across a blackboard a la…which movie was that in?

  74. In a word, yes.

    A

    Copeland

    SUX

    For the coup de grace we could get Yoko! to sing it.

  75. P Brooks,
    Open up. I’ve been brewing one for a few days.

  76. smacky, your defense of the worst thing ever to happen to John Lennon besides Mark David Chapman is honorable but misguided. Maybe you should just defend Hitler.

  77. when people hear an iron claw being scraped across a blackboard a la…which movie was that in?

    Jaws?

  78. TWC,

    It can mean pulling fingernails with a pair of pliers without anesthetic or it can mean making them listen to Yoko Ono’s caterwauling with the volume dialed to 10.

    Yea, back in my day you had to go to at least 11 for it to even count for anything.

  79. OK, how about the premiere of Sex and the City with an Aaron Copeland soundtrack, ringtones going off all around and yes, the screaming baby? Do we have a winner?

  80. when people hear an iron claw being scraped across a blackboard a la…which movie was that in?

    There was an episode of Get Smart with that in it. The KAOS villan was “The Claw” and he had an Asian accent. He would correct people mispronouncing his name “Not the Craw! The Craw!”

  81. The sexiest most gorgeous women on the face of this green earth are walking around just like the rest of us. Most of them are not on TV or in the movies.

    Yes, and most of them are not going to let the general public see their bare breasts, either.

  82. The sexiest most gorgeous women on the face of this green earth are walking around just like the rest of us. Most of them are not on TV or in the movies.

    I was out with one of them Monday night. Col DuBois describes her well. Did not get to see them in private either.

  83. Oh, and since I did not notice anybody else mention, the usage of “torture” in place of discomfort is becoming so rampant as to cheapen real torture.

    Absolutely. Real torturers are losing income with all these amateurs selling their mere discomfort as torture. Don’t pay for torture unless it has the union stamp, and make sure you buy American!

  84. Did not get to see them in private either.

    Wow. Sexy, gorgeous, and smart.

  85. It’s true she may not be the most capable singer, but Yoko definitely has her own sound that lends itself well to psychedelic rock.

    this is true.

    smacky, your defense of the worst thing ever to happen to John Lennon besides Mark David Chapman is honorable but misguided.

    see, this is wrong, dude. he died a legend and a martyr, which isn’t bad for fronting the most overrated band in history. had he lived he would have just turned into sting, maybe had a courageous battle with cancer or lou gehrig’s disease (which would have been renamed lennon syndrome or something like that) and i’d never have tourists asking me every fucking summer where strawberry fields are.

    tip: they don’t think it’s funny when you tell them to try the union square greenmarket.

  86. smacky, your defense of the worst thing ever to happen to John Lennon besides Mark David Chapman …

    I’m not entirely convinced that Yoko wasn’t worse.

  87. Did not get to see them in private either.

    Now THAT’S torture.

  88. I would rather listen to a shrieking baby beating a cast iron kettle with a claw hammer than listen to Aaron Copeland.

  89. I would rather listen to a shrieking baby beating a cast iron kettle with a claw hammer

    i too enjoy classic neubauten.

  90. That beef commercial he did was pretty good.

  91. How about a movie where a baby is crying because Scarlett Johannsen is teasing it by starting to unbutton her shirt and then buttoning it up again?

  92. dhex,

    most overrated band in history.

    I have been calling the Beatles the second most overrated in history, close second to the Doors, for quite some time.

    I like your distaste!

  93. they don’t think it’s funny when you tell them to try the union square greenmarket

    Ha, but I do.

    had he lived he would have just turned into sting

    Yes, exactly, but so much more. I for one would be fascinated to have seen Lennon become the biggest insane, obnoxious, moralizing celebrity of all time, kind of like Sting + Bono squared.

  94. you can’t really fuck with a dude who wrote a whole song about beef that requires 20 people to think about what’s for dinner (beef) while playing it.

  95. Yes, exactly, but so much more. I for one would be fascinated to have seen Lennon become the biggest insane, obnoxious, moralizing celebrity of all time, kind of like Sting + Bono squared.

    From my fading memore, I think you need a higher level of math for the calculation. Perhaps a level not yet created.

  96. memory*

  97. As long as I’m being contrarian, I’m going to disagree with all of the above posts about horrible sounds. I mean they’re all horrible, but the last couple of times I was in a US airport they had Lou Dobbs cranked to 11 in the waiting area.

    Lou fucking Dobbs. It was brain damage and hearing damage in one convenient package.

  98. Two words:
    Susan Estridge.

  99. Yoko Ono’s music is probably the most unpleasant noise I’ve ever heard, and I say that being a big fan of free jazz.

  100. ChrisO,

    You really haven’t heard a whole lot of noise music, in that case.

  101. The most unpleasant sound I have heard was the silence when my aircraft’s engine quit while I was at the top of a (poorly executed) loop!

  102. The Happy Flowers seem to work according to this anecdote.

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