Challenge: Noise Challenge #4: The Soundtrack |

By: Robin

In order to extract Manuel Noriega from his refuge in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City, the US military bombarded him with heavy metal music, including AC/DC, for fifteen days in December 1989. Learning from this episode, troops in Iraq have used music both to buoy up their own spirits and sap those of the enemy. Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” is a favourite. “We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music for ever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?” asked band founder James Hetfield. Prisoners at the infamous Guantanamo Bay incarceration camp in Cuba have been treated to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking”, “Sing-Along With Mitch Miller” Christmas carols, and, worst of all, the Barney theme tune.

The historical and mythological precedents do not go unacknowledged. Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Kuehl notes that “Joshua’s army used horns to strike fear into the hearts of the people of Jericho. His men might not have been able to break down literal walls with their trumpets. But… the noise eroded the enemies’ courage. Maybe those psychological walls were what really crumbled”.

In the siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas in March 1993, loudspeakers were used as a tactic of sleep deprivation. The sonic content programmed by the U.S. Department of Justice included Tibetan chants, Christmas music, sirens, squawking birds, laughter, and rabbits being slaughtered. Excessive volume and incessant playback had their effects, but so too did the specific content, especially the scream. As Douglas Kahn notes “Screams when trafficked in culture in their powerful self-evidence, in their amplitude and affect, simultaneously assert themselves and elude meaning. They resemble noise in this respect”. The scream is a product of our insides turned out; it is the audio manifestation of body horror.

This week’s assignment was disengeniously entitled “The Soundtrack”. It proposes a similar torture exercise to those discussed above. Any “song” (a term I assume was meant to be defined by pop standards) played repeatedly loses all referential meaning, not to mention emotional impact. It becomes only a delivery vehicle for normative sonic content. Knowing already this outcome, I refused to submit to this experiment.

Portions of this post are adapted from my paper “Becoming Noise: Unwanted Sounds From Helmholtz To Hegarty”.

4 thoughts on “-

  1. As the person who issued this challenge, I can’t disagree with you more. Please take a few minutes to read some of the other responses from people who, in various ways, went through their own personal and emotional journeys listening to their chosen “songs” on repeat.

    These challenges are meant to be interpreted and brought to another level, through the creativity and ingenuity of those responding. If you’re not a “pop” fan, then feel free to select a track that speaks to you. Many challengers chose improvisational tracks, or tracks they created themselves. They didn’t limit themselves to the literal words at hand.

    Torture? Sure, some might find this exercise torturous. Others found this exercise deeply personal. I find this contrast compelling. But in your case, to refuse to participate because the challenge “proposes a similar torture exercise” to those discussed in your post, is just false and misunderstood.

    However, I appreciate you enlightening us all with your paper “Becoming Noise: Unwanted Sounds From Helmholtz To Hegarty”. I would enjoy reading this paper one day.


  2. I am glad to get a response, and thank you for taking the time, though I must say that it does seem to miss the point. Can you not see that my post is indeed also a response to the original challenge? Had I not responded at all, that would have been a null result. Instead I considered the project with all seriousness. I took time to look into my own responses and came back with something which, if nothing else, demonstrates that I engaged with your request. I forged links from your proposal out to other activities directly relating to “noise” and its (anti)social uses. Is this not called The Noise Project? Perhaps my response is challenging to you, in turn. If so, I judge the exercise a success!

    Please do not stop issuing me challenges I might refute, reconsider, détourn, enhance, undermine, embrace, chew on, and spit back up again.

    The paper I referenced was delivered at ISSTC 2012 in Cork, Ireland. I do hope to find the time to develop it into something more comprehensive that would stand on its own, but it’s not at that stage currently. Projects like this one help, so thanks for that.

  3. I agree with you — your willingness to respond to the challenge despite your imposition towards it is respectable.

    We also appreciated the fact that you brought your paper into the mix, adding a historical and cultural dimension to the challenge (one that I didn’t know about and one that I find incredibly interesting).

    However, I felt you could have done this without seemingly insulting myself and those challengers who actually did pull “meaning” and “emotional impact” from the challenge at hand.(But perhaps I’m being too sensitive).

    I also disagree that a song “played repeatedly loses all referential meaning, not to mention emotional impact.” I’ve been known to listen to one track for months on repeat (and nothing else). The act of repetition for me, personally, is an act of extreme comfort. I enjoy creating an internal world through songs in which I can exist for awhile. For me at least, emotion and meaning is heightened with repetition.

    I want to thank you for being involved in this project and for consistently responding to the challenges at hand. I hope you will continue to do so. Feel free to refute, chew on, embrace, etc. But please keep in mind — we’re good people and only want the best for those involved.

  4. I can only speak for myself, though I do strive to back up my perspective and put it in the context of other work out there in the world. Certainly I declare this point of view with a certain zeal, but did not mean any disrespect. Apologies if it was so taken. I certainly wouldn’t be taking part in this project if I thought the intent or ethics were somehow out of whack.

    This act of repetition you relish I certainly do find dehumanising. In fact, the act of producing pop music in the first place I find dehumanising, let alone the extreme setting for reproduction of which you speak. This is perhaps why, though I was trained in studio production, I prefer to operate in more diffuse ways through improvisational settings and cross-modal engagements (like those this project encourages).

    All in all, after reading many of the other responses here, I think a more critical point of view is very much needed.

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