Vibrational force: The current intersection of sound research and aesthetic experimentation puts us in a very interesting time ‘sonically’ speaking. Artists, advertisers, educators, and everyday people all have access to audio technologies that have creatively redefined public and private space. Everyday we use a myriad of devices to communicate our thoughts and connect with each other. Interestingly, the development of these technologies was not driven by a desire to communicate but rather a desire to manage populations, control space, and gain military advantage. The ways in which sound has been conceptualized says many things about the concerns of a culture.
Governments often use sound to subdue the public and regulate order while advertisers use sound to influence the market by playing upon perceived desires. Steve Goodman examines what he calls the politics of frequency in his blog particularly how sonic weaponry has been used by the military and police use to control populations and perceptions of reality.
The US Military treads ethically questionable territory especially when it comes to their employment of sonic weaponry. Beyond the more popularly known examples in the media of the US Military blasting popular music at prisoners in Abu Ghraib, today the military conducts extensive research in virtual soundscapes, infrasonic frequencies, and directional sound lasers to gain advantage over the imagined enemy.
Political power extends when loud speakers and other transmission devices amplify voice. One of my favorite models of the public using audio to amplify collective voice and reclaim political independence is Estonia’s Singing Revolution of the late 1980’s. Even though Estonia was under Soviet occupation for decades, and the singing of traditional Estonian folk songs were banned under this regime, Estonians joined in a peaceful protest through song. Demanding independence, hundreds of thousands of Estonians organized calm but impassioned massive singing demonstrations over a handful of years that eventually led to their independence.
Well crafted audio can increase the perception that an authoritarian voice is speaking directly to you. Interpellation was fortified by the development of audio technologies which lent power not only to political and commercial endeavors but also the voice of fiction. There were a couple examples of radiophonic panic that seized the American and Ecuadorian imagination … and what immediately comes to mind is the highly controversial and fairly recent release of “The Mosquito” as an example of how an ultrasonic devices can be simultaneously used to fashion a new perception of reality and undermine human rights. This device is able to mess with equilibrium because it is our ability to determine the directionality of a sound source which grounds us in space and helps establish our sense of balance. In this way, The Mosquito is one example of a broader idea: when we are unable to figure out where a sound is coming from a certain anxiety starts to build. Changes in volume and frequency affect our sense of physical and psychological security.