Thursday, February 28, 2008

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

My original copy of that glowing masterwork of 1967 psychedelia, Love's album Forever Changes, has that warm vinyl crackling throughout the album that was eliminated in the age of the cd and mp3. I've handled the record like a Vermeer, but when I bought it there were a couple of preexisting pops, especially a two-rotation skip on the first song, "Alone Again Or." And I've listened to it a hundred times. Now, when I hear "Alone Again Or" from another source my mind's ear follows the song to the skip and experiences a brief moment of confusion when the song plays through. I know the song with the skip.

How about knowing songs with screams? Wouldn't it be a nightmare if you could "hear" the Sesame Street theme song only with accompanying screams of pain?

Mother Jones has what is purported to be the torture playlist - used during sleep deprivation techniques - for US military prisons (via Crooks and Liars). Pretty bad stuff, in my view. Notice the choice of songs, however. They don't appear to be designed primarily, simply for the purpose of keeping detainees awake and disoriented. For that goal, I'd probably alternate hyperactive Shibuya girlpop with Einstürzende Neubauten.

The songs here also seem to serve another purpose. Note the several songs about America or the USA. The song saying "Fuck Your God." The BeeGees' "Stayin' Alive." They're clearly designed to humiliate as well, but also apparently to boost the guards' or torturers' sense of national and religious superiority while dehumanizing prisoners. Further, several of the songs here are what are known as "cold jokes," the sense of humor derived from dehumanization of others. Cold jokes are common in war (dressing an enemy corpse in a hat and sunglasses, for example). But they're a crucial sign of moral distancing, of that inability nurtured in war of seeing others as human beings. This is the psychological state that makes atrocities possible.


jenhargis said...

I thought "torture by music" didn't have any effect on prisoners. Did I hear wrong? Or was I being lied to? I honestly don't remember the source except that it was a former POW (or supposedly so).

helmut said...

As a torture instrument, it's not the music itself. It's its use in sleep deprivation. I think that underscores my point.