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That’s music biz

If you listen to music that you don’t — or can’t — appreciate, it really does feel like torture.

music Updated: Jan 20, 2009 16:46 IST
Parag Kamani

If you listen to music that you don’t — or can’t — appreciate, it really does feel like torture. For me personally, hip-hop is a genre I have genuinely tried to ‘understand’ but haven’t been able to so far. This musical torture has been taken to an unforseen level by the U S Army.

I recently learnt that one of the most startling aspects of musical culture in the post-ColdWar U S is the systematic use of music as a weapon of war.

First strike
This fact was brought to attention in 1989, when U S troops blared loud music in an effort to induce Panamanian president, Manuel Norriega, to surrender. Since then prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have faced the music too, literally.

Playing back loud power chords, for example, to suspected terrorists and unsuspecting listeners in their cells –– often the same song innumerable times every day — has been mentioned in a declassified U S government document. It states that “loud music” is an approved interrogation tactic “used to create fear, disorient detainees and prolong capture shock.”

Terror tactics
And, if you think I’m joking here, you should read the comment of an inmate who has gone on record to say that repeated playing of rap music “left inmates screaming, and smashing their heads against the wall, unable to endure more.”

Expectedly, there is uproar about this terror tactic from the musicians whose music is being used in this way without their knowledge. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with non-accounting of royalties for public performance or unauthorised usage of copyright material.

The artistes whose songs have been used are supporting a campaign to exert pressure on the international community to bring an end to the technique. I agree with the musicians’ perspective. It’s difficult to imagine anything more insulting, embarrassing, compromising and demeaning than finding composition, created with much passion, being used as a means of torture.

The very idea that music could be an instrument of torture confronts us with a novel and disturbing perspective on contemporary music in any part of the world.

Victims of tactics
As early as May 2003, the BBC reported that the U S army had used Metallica’s Enter sandman and Barney The Purple Dinosaur’s I love you for interrogating Iraqi detainees, playing the songs repeatedly at high volume. However, I fail to understand how music could constitute torture –– especially when used as a part of a package of techniques specifically designed to “break” prisoners. After all, the detainees are not kids. They are trained to resist torture.