Music and Torture Panel

Saturday, April 14, 9:30am
Room 2224
Can Aksoy, chair

"Music as Torture in Auschwitz and Guantanamo"

Melissa Kagen, German Studies
Stanford University

In this paper, I examine how music which ostensibly is used to torture political prisoners actually functions to galvanize their torturers. In her article "Music as weapon/Music as torture," Suzanne Cusick examines the use of music as a component of "no touch torture" in US interrogation of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, particularly attempting to differentiate the physical pain of of music played at high volumes from the psychological deformation and identity deconstruction music can provoke. Played for 20 hours in combination with a dark, cold, sleepless, and chained environment, the music was, she argues, a vital component in "breaking" prisoners' wills, but, overall, what mattered most was the function of the music as unending noise. Despite that, the songs chosen represent a culturally specific agenda, seemingly designed to enact the sort of identity deconstruction Cusick describes as possible. One can break down the 28 artists or songs which were played into four broad categories: angry/aggressive, culturally uncomfortable/ironic, nationalistic, and juvenile/sentimental. Considering that these lyrics might not carry weight for non-English speakers, and in line with Cusick's argument that "no touch torture" is a way for homophobic male soldiers to "get inside" detainees without risking their own masculinity, I want to question the extent to which these songs were chosen not to deconstruct prisoners but to encourage American soldiers. Next, I compare these songs and the motives behind them with the songs prisoners of German concentration camps were forced to sing, as detailed in Guido Fackler's article, "Music in Concentration Camps 1933-1945." Here, prisoners were not forced to hear music, but to sing on command, which was often extremely difficult for the starving inmates; again, the music seems to function largely as painful noise, but the chosen songs, which fall into the same four categories, seem intentionally picked to a) deconstruct prisoners' identities from the inside out and b) encourage soldiers who were uncomfortable with their work.

"Words and War(riors): Music and the War on Terror"

Amanda Daly, Ethnomusicology
Boston University

This paper addresses the concept of music torture, specifically as it relates to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conflict is Northern Ireland is also briefly considered. The paper examines the use of music as an interrogation tool, as well as other sensory affect/deprivation techniques used alone or in conjunction with music torture, including the flashing of lights, drastically cooling a room and forced standing. The paper wishes to address how such practice is connected to and affected by globalization, questioning whether the loud use of Western popular music, specifically metal, rock, hip-hip, children's music, pop and commercial jingles, often repeated or played at extreme volumes, as a tool of domination is indeed effective, discussing in part the lyrics and their potential power to degrade and de-power. Music created and recorded by stationed soldiers, specifically the messages within the lyrics they write, are examined. In addition, the irony of the influence of artists such as Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth, whose music is frequently employed by American soldiers, on Middle Eastern heavy metal bands such as the Iraqi group Acrassicauda is analyzed. The work of other scholars on the concept of music and torture is addressed, including the salient issue of gender, with the author seeking to involve conflict and coexistence theory and ethnomusicological theory as means of framing and interpretation. The Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM)'s position statement and acceptance and dissonance within the field on the subject, as well as opinions on music torture by others, including the artists whose music is used in the practice, is addressed. The neurobiological and physiological connections of music torture are also discussed. The difficulty of obtaining information on the topic due to security concerns, linguistic differences, the lack of research currently available on the issue, etc. is also considered. Lastly, the idea of music therapy as a means of reintegrating music for those involved in war is considered.

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