That what we hear, and cannot hear — whether this be absolute silence, or speech, or music, or noise — can be used against us as a method of torture and ill-treatment, has been known for a long time, though most public knowledge of this topic dates to revelations regarding torture techniques used by US security forces in the “war on terror.” No later than the 1970s, many statements from survivors of torture document the systematic use of noise and music as effective tools of psychological but also physical torture. The historical roots of these connections lie much further back still, however, even though they have only very recently become a subject of research.
In this talk I focus on the role of music during torture, and will do so under three general headings: Forced listening, on the history and impacts of some methods of acoustic and particularly musical torture; Only listening, where I argue that exposing people to sounding music is only one of many methods of music torture; and Not listening, on why even today and in spite of all we have learned, musical forms of torture are very rarely taken seriously.
Morag Josephine Grant was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, and studied music and musicology at the University of Glasgow, at King’s College London, and at the Humboldt University of Berlin. Her research focuses on the sociology and historical anthropology of music, group song and singing, the theory and esthetics of new and experimental music, music and violence, music and human rights, and music in Scotland. She received her PhD from King’s College London in 1999, for a dissertation later published in revised form by Cambridge University Press as Serial Music, Serial Aesthetics: Compositional Theory in Post-war Europe (2001). Her second monograph, Auld Lang Syne: A Song and Its Culture is currently under review. In 2014 she completed a six-year term as a junior professor of musicology at the University of Göttingen, where she founded and led the research group “Music, Conflict, and the State”. The group’s work focused on the use of music to promote, prolong, and facilitate violent responses to conflict. Publications stemming from the group’s work include The Soundtrack of Conflict: The Role of Music in Radio Broadcasting in Wartime and in Conflict Situations, ed. by M. J. Grant & Férdia J. Stone-Davis (2013), and Special issues of the world of music (new series) and Torture: Journal on Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Prevention of Torture, both guest-edited by M. J. Grant and Anna Papaeti. From November 2014 to September 2015, Grant is a fellow of the Käte Hamburger Centre for Advanced Study “Law as Culture” at the University of Bonn. She is currently working on a third monograph with the working title The Social Musicology of War.