The Sound of Torture

A 'shame violin', a Medieval method of torture whereby the victim was permanently attached to the relevant instrument

A ‘shame violin’, a Medieval method of torture whereby the victim was permanently attached to the relevant instrument

Listening to music is often aligned with positivity, healing and relaxation. But what if the music plays to ears who do not want to listen? What if the repetition, the volume, or the content of the music is too much for the listener? Can music be used as a method of control or coercion?

Music is said to be understood across borders and cultures. However, in reality, even the same combination of sounds can have different effects on different listeners.

Using music as torture is not a new phenomenon. While the use of repetitive music has been oft-cited as a method of causing suffering during the ‘War on Terror’ – Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time was used to torment prisoners at Guantanamo Bay according to some former inmates – the trend to use sounds for torture was explored in Nazi concentration camps and in Soviet gulags, and even hundreds of years earlier during the Middle Ages.

The latest issue of Torture Journal from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) [available here in a digital format] brings together reports from six leading academics which analyse the history of using music as a means of psychological torture, the effects it has on the victims, and how music can penetrate the resolve of even the most hardened individual to cause suffering.

When used against people’s will, music can be transformed into a damaging method of punishment and re-education – a method of torture which arguably is not fully understood or prevented by state officials. This collection of material highlights not only the prevalence of music usage in torture, but also discusses what can be done to stop music as a form of harm and instead being aligned as a method of rehabilitation.

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The digital edition of Torture Journal can be viewed and downloaded by clicking this link.

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