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Music As Torture

Topics: Music | 1 CommentBy admin | June 24, 2010

The sounds of the sixties brought people together. The sounds of the 21st century are not only annoying us, they’re causing lawsuits and lethal injuries.


The US Government’s
version of a “boom car”

While I would still contend that the recent remake of We Are The World is the most effective use of music as torture ever devised, there are a multitude of ways to cause discomfort with sound. Which I’ll get to after I tell you a little story, and give you some background. I’ve always felt that music is literally sacred, and that it should never be used to make someone else unhappy. Meaning, for instance, that if my choice of music bothers someone, I’m glad to turn it off and look for common ground. I’m rethinking my values a bit lately though, thanks to boom cars, ignorant cops, and outdoor fundraisers with drum machine driven top forty bands. Let me explain. I live in town that has an abundance of musicians. Musicians that apparently aren’t allowed to play on the streets unless they suck in some way. Example 1: A few weeks ago I walked past a talented jazz guitarist playing at a very reasonable volume. I tossed a couple bucks in his case. A few minutes later I walked back past him to find that he had stopped playing, and that a cop was writing him a ticket. I asked the cop why he was ticketing the guy. The cop cited a 90 decibel limit specified by the city. I’ve done professional sound work, so I asked this cop how he decides how many decibels a musician is generating. As he tried to explain that they have a decibel meter at city hall for when a citizen questions a cop’s judgment, a bus drove by, completely drowning him out. I got in a fairly heated argument with this public servant who risks his life daily to protect us from all this lethal jazz, because he had NO IDEA what he was talking about. He ended up not writing a ticket. I guess it was cost-inefficient for him to make the trip to get the meter. A week later, a local organization was holding a fundraiser across the street from my apartment. Their “entertainment” committed two crimes at once. First, they played at well over 90 decibels until after 11pm. And second, they played songs like “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”. WITH A DRUM MACHINE. And finished off their sound with nasal, midwest schoolteacher whitefolk vocals. Granted, there’s actually no law against sucking, but where was that cop NOW? I pondered the likely results of filing a noise complaint against a fundraiser for a major medical institution, and decided it would be futile. So I ended up doing one of the more childish things I’ve done in my life, which was to digitally create cleverly dissonant tones and aim them out my window during the most egregious offenses against decency that the top forty band committed. Like when they started playing “Play That Funky Music White Boy [Church Lady Remix]“. After this I was feeling like a bit of a git for an hour or so, until the universe reared its ugly karmic head and treated me to a series of boom cars parking below my window. Which instead of teaching me a lesson, got me fantasizing about building a HERF Gun that would be specially tuned to destroy car audio subwoofers. This fantasy sated my frustration until the next morning when the owners of the parking structure across the street decided that 7am was a great time to star with the jackhammers. Again, where was that noise-fighting cop now? So while you’d probably suggest that I should just move to the country and all my problems would be solved, the point I’m really getting at is that sound is more and more often being used recklessly, rudely, and in some cases violently. Below is a quick list of these evil uses of sound, and what you can do about them.

Boom Cars – Those idiots that put subwoofers in their cars tuned to 30Hz so that no-one – including them – can hear anything but a window-rattling monotonous boom? Well, apparently they bother a LOT of people. There are organizations devoted to addressing the problem, like Lower The Boom and NoiseOff, but these vehicles are very pervasive, and car audio makers actually support this behavior, so I don’t know how effective this movement will be. Personally, I might actually pursue that HERF gun method.

Top Forty Bands With Drum Machines – There is no solution to this problem. As long as musicians with failed careers are willing to form these bands, and cheap club owners and money-hungry fundraiser organizers are willing to hire them, we’ll have to listen to “Time of My Life” as an encore song at 2am until the end of eternity.

Music as Torture – You may already know that the US Government has been using music as a form of torture for a while now, as well as using it in large-scale Psy-Ops. There’s nothing you can do here. Even if citizens did have some kind of control over their goverment, bands like Metallica have become reliant on the royalty revenue. As Lars Ulrich put it in an interview recently: “If you’re gonna use my music to torture people, by god, I’m gonna get PAID“.

Sonic Cannons – This is all the rage in crowd control. The only defense we know of at the moment is earplugs. But there’s no guarantee that earplugs will prevent the fatal aneurysms.

Teen Audio Repellent – I have no complaints about The Mosquito , the hotly debated audio tone used to disperse loitering teens. I mean, who needs loitering teens, right? In fact, as an adult, I didn’t completely believe it existed until I downloaded the audio file (this NPR piece has a version) and opened in editing software so I could see the waveform.

Can we all just get together for a round of Cumbayah now?

Read Comments

  1. Posted by Eric Brown on 06.24.10 9:58 am

    Great article – you can get your HERF gun much easier though, at least for killing your computer, it’s called Windows! ; )