POWERS OF SOUND
I INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON RESEARCH IN SONORITIES
Musician and environmentalist Murray Schafer identifies in noise, rising above the everyday silence of communities, an element to commemorate special occasions: harvest, religious events, official events or not. The rupture of routine tranquility is seen as something that helps to define the sacred: that which is different from secular silence. At the same time, the researcher sees in the growing industrialization, since the 18th century, a way of populating the world with increasingly intense sounds. The possibility of sounds that do not cease or of sounds that are heard without us being able (or needing) to identify their origin, transforms the act of listening and producing sounds into a relationship of power. Contemporary society not only systematically pollutes the environment with an incalculable amount of new and powerful sounds, but at the same time inserts these new means of sound production into chains of meaning production. However, we can say that our current soundscapes constitute an even more complex issue.
Normally understood as a physical phenomenon, that is, the transmission of a movement signal in a medium or as the vibration of a body that resonates in another, sound must also be thought of as a social relationship: whether in the music that cradles the dancing bodies in a party or the one that plays in bars and takes over the sidewalks, whether in the use of sound cars for manifestations in a protest, or in the use of the voice by cryers who announce their products and services in the public space, or even in the sound systems of movie theaters that immerse viewers in the filmic diegesis. It can be noticed that each of these sonorities allows the performance of tasks that would not be completed in the same way by activating other expression materials. In this sense, sounds have agency, they have the power to conquer objectives or to make agents that vibrate in line with or dissonance with them act in directions that support or oppose them.
Sounds work with identities: individual or group; sounds configure power relations: between individuals or between institutions; sounds reveal historical structures of production; sounds are essential components of the entertainment industry; sounds cause pain and death.
The relationship between sounds and power is not new, as we have seen, but it acquires unprecedented and very important contours in the current world political situation. In a moment of ideological tension, in which the State and society have been the protagonists of often violent disputes, sound has proved to be an efficient instrument for controlling and inflicting damage on people or objects.
In their duality of force and text, as stated by anthropologist Martin Daughtry, sounds colonize spaces – including that of the body. The author researches the sounds of the Iraq War to understand how sound is involved in violent dynamics of power that are distributed asymmetrically in all directions. Thus, it unravels a series of practices, protocols and technological artifacts that shape the listening and daily actions of soldiers and the civilian population involved in the conflict.
In this sense, the author analyzes how devices created for long-distance communication such as the LRAD (long range acoustic device) have been commonly used since 2006 to disperse crowds. The LRAD produces a sound above the limit of bearable human hearing, forcing demonstrators to withdraw from the site. The most iconic case was that of protests during the G20 summit meeting in Pittsburgh, USA. The technological artifact was also used by the American army in Iraq after Operation Iraqi Freedom to pass on messages that had not only an informative function, but also aimed to impose dominion over urban territory and undermine the morale of groups resistance to the US occupation (DAUGHTRY, 2015). In Rio de Janeiro, shortly before the 2013 Confederations Cup final, the Military Police presented a cannon to the press sonic to keep more excited fans away. Device name:Hell.
In a recent controversial diplomatic episode, the US State Department denounced what would be considered an “acoustic attack” on its embassy in Havana. American diplomats reportedly began to experience headaches, nausea, hearing loss and imbalance, probably due to ultrasonic emissions from listening devices hidden in their homes orat the embassy itself.
These examples reveal the comprehensive character of sound as an object of research. For some decades now, the field of Sound Studies has been developing through a multidisciplinary perspective, involving areas as diverse as Technologies, Audiovisual, Music, Anthropology, History, Philosophy, Communication, Economics, etc. More than a research object, works such as those cited here demonstrate that sound should be thought of as a research instrument: as an investigation method. Understand contemporary phenomena through different models of listening and different power relations, economic, cultural, aesthetic, etc. constituted from there is to rethink our own conception of the world. Running away from the usual visual perspective through which various fields of knowledge formulate their hypotheses is also allowing different nuances to surface, questioning everyday experience and seeking new ways of positioning oneself.