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«Steve Goodman,  SONIC WARFARE Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear Steve Goodman The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England ...»

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Technologies of Lived Abstraction

Brian Massumi and Erin Manning, editors

Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy, Erin Manning, 

Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics, Steven Shaviro, 

Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear, Steve Goodman, 


Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear

Steve Goodman

The MIT Press

Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England ©  Massachusetts Institute of Technology All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.

For information about special quantity discounts, please e-mail special_sales@mitpress.mit.edu This book was set in Syntax and Minion by Graphic Composition, Inc.

Printed and bound in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Goodman, Steve.

Sonic warfare : sound, affect, and the ecology of fear / Steve Goodman.

p. cm. — (Technologies of lived abstraction) Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN ---- (hardcover : alk. paper) . Music—Acoustics and physics. . Music—Social aspects. . Music—Philosophy and aesthetics. I. Title.

ML.G  '.—dc           Contents Series Foreword vii Acknowledgments ix Introduction xiii 1 1998: A Conceptual Event 1 2 2001: What Is Sonic Warfare? 5 3 2400–1400 B.C.: Project Jericho 15 4 1946: Sonic Dominance 27 5 1933: Abusing the Military-Entertainment Complex 31 6 403–221 B.C.: The Logistics of Deception 35 7 1944: The Ghost Army 41 8 1842: Sonic Effects 45 9 1977: A Sense of the Future 49 10 1913: The Art of War in the Art of Noise 55 11 1989: Apocalypse Then 59 12 1738: Bad Vibrations 63 13 1884: Dark Precursor 69 14 1999: Vibrational Anarchitecture 75 15 13.7 Billion B.C.: The Ontology of Vibrational Force 81 16 1931: Rhythmanalysis 85 17 1900: The Vibrational Nexus 91 18 1929: Throbs of Experience 95 vi Contents 19 1677: Ecology of Speeds 99 20 99–50 B.C.: Rhythm out of Noise 105 21 1992: The Throbbing Crowd 109 22 1993: Vorticist Rhythmachines 113 23 1946: Virtual Vibrations 117 24 2012: Artificial Acoustic Agencies 123 25 1877: Capitalism and Schizophonia 129 26 1976: Outbreak 133 27 1971: The Earworm 141 28 2025: Déjà Entendu 149 29 1985: Dub Virology 155 30 1928: Contagious Orality 163 31 2020: Planet of Drums 171 32 2003: Contagious Transmission 177 33 2039: Holosonic Control 183 34 Conclusion: Unsound—The (Sub)Politics of Frequency 189

–  –  –

“What moves as a body, returns as the movement of thought.” Of subjectivity (in its nascent state) Of the social (in its mutant state) Of the environment (at the point it can be reinvented) “A process set up anywhere reverberates everywhere.” The Technologies of Lived Abstraction book series is dedicated to work of transdisciplinary reach, inquiring critically but especially creatively into processes of subjective, social, and ethical-political emergence abroad in the world today.

Thought and body,


and concrete, local and global, individual and collective: the works presented are not content to rest with the habitual divisions.

They explore how these facets come formatively, reverberatively together, if only to form the movement by which they come again to differ.

Possible paradigms are many: autonomization, relation; emergence, complexity, process; individuation, (auto)poiesis; direct perception, embodied perception, perception-as-action; speculative pragmatism, speculative realism, radical empiricism; mediation, virtualization; ecology of practices, media ecology; technicity; micropolitics, biopolitics, ontopower. Yet there will be a common aim: to catch new thought and action dawning, at a creative crossing. Technologies of viii Series Foreword Lived Abstraction orients to the creativity at this crossing, in virtue of which life everywhere can be considered germinally aesthetic, and the aesthetic anywhere already political.

“Concepts must be experienced. They are lived.” Erin Manning and Brian Massumi Acknowledgments A special thanks to Lilian, Bernard, and Michelle for putting up with my noise since day zero.

For the brainpower, thanks to:

Jessica Edwards, Torm, Luciana Parisi, Stephen Gordon, Kodwo Eshun, Anna Greenspan, Nick Land, Mark Fisher, Matt Fuller, Robin Mackay, Kevin Martin, Jeremy Greenspan, Jon Wozencroft, Bill Dolan, Raz Mesinai, Simon Reynolds, Dave Stelfox, Marcus Scott, Mark Pilkington, Erik Davis, Toby Heys, Matt Fuller, Brian Massumi, Erin Manning, Steven Shaviro, Stamatia Portanova, Eleni Ikoniadou, Cecelia Wee, Olaf Arndt, Joy Roles, James Trafford, Jorge Camachio, Tiziana Terranova, Jeremy Gilbert, Tim Lawrence, Haim Bresheeth, Julian Henriques, Jasmin Jodry, Wil Bevan, Mark Lawrence, Neil Joliffe, Sarah Lockhart, Martin Clark, Georgina Cook, Melissa Bradshaw, Marcos Boffa, Dave Quintiliani, Paul Jasen, Cyclic Defrost, Derek Walmsley, Jason and Leon at Transition, Doug Sery at MIT.

For the ideas, collectivity, and bass, maximum respect to:

Ccru, Hyperdub, DMZ, Fwd, Rinse, Brainfeeder.

For the sabbatical: The School of Social Sciences, Media and Cultural Studies at University of East London.


–  –  –

It’s night. You’re asleep, peacefully dreaming. Suddenly the ground begins to tremble. Slowly, the shaking escalates until you are thrown off balance, clinging desperately to any fixture to stay standing. The vibration moves up through your body, constricting your internal organs until it hits your chest and throat, making it impossible to breathe. At exactly the point of suffocation, the floor rips open beneath you, yawning into a gaping dark abyss. Screaming silently, you stumble and fall, skydiving into what looks like a bottomless pit. Then, without warning, your descent is curtailed by a hard surface. At the painful moment of impact, as if in anticipation, you awaken. But there is no relief, because at that precise split second, you experience an intense sound that shocks you to your very core. You look around but see no damage. Jumping out of bed, you run outside. Again you see no damage. What happened? The only thing that is clear is that you won’t be able to get back to sleep because you are still resonating with the encounter.

In November , a number of international newspapers reported that the Israeli air force was using sonic booms under the cover of darkness as “sound bombs” in the Gaza Strip. A sonic boom is the high-volume, deep-frequency effect of low-flying jets traveling faster than the speed of sound. Its victims likened its effect to the wall of air pressure generated by a massive explosion. They reported broken windows, ear pain, nosebleeds, anxiety attacks, sleeplessness, hypertension, and being left “shaking inside.” Despite complaints from both Palestinians and Israelis, the government protested that sound bombs were “preferable xiv Introduction to real ones.” What is the aim of such attacks on civilian populations, and what new modes of power do such not-so-new methods exemplify? As with the U.S.

Army’s adoption of “shock-and-awe” tactics and anticipative strikes in Iraq, and the screeching of diving bombers during the blitzkriegs of World War II, the objective was to weaken the morale of a civilian population by creating a climate of fear through a threat that was preferably nonlethal yet possibly as unsettling as an actual attack. Fear induced purely by sound effects, or at least in the undecidability between an actual or sonic attack, is a virtualized fear. The threat becomes autonomous from the need to back it up. And yet the sonically induced fear is no less real. The same dread of an unwanted, possible future is activated, perhaps all the more powerful for its spectral presence. Despite the rhetoric, such deployments do not necessarily attempt to deter enemy action, to ward off an undesirable future, but are as likely to prove provocative, to increase the likelihood of conflict, to precipitate that future.

Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear explores the rippling shockwaves of these kinds of deployments of sound and their impacts on the way populations feel—not just their individualized, subjective, personal emotions, but more their collective moods or affects. Specifically, a concern will be shown for environments, or ecologies, in which sound contributes to an immersive atmosphere or ambience of fear and dread—where sound helps produce a bad vibe. This dimension of an encounter will be referred to as its affective tone, a term that has an obvious, but rarely explored, affinity to thinking through the way in which sound can modulate mood. Yet in the scenario above, the sonic weapon does more than merely produce anxiety. The intense vibration literally threatens not just the traumatized emotional disposition and physiology of the population, but also the very structure of the built environment. So the term affect will be taken in this broadest possible sense to mean the potential of an entity or event to affect or be affected by another entity or event. From vibes to vibrations, this is a definition that traverses mind and body, subject and object, the living and the nonliving. One way or another, it is vibration, after all, that connects every separate entity in the cosmos, organic or nonorganic.

Sonic Warfare outlines the acoustic violence of vibration and the trembling of temperaments. It sketches a map of forces with each step, constructing concepts to investigate the deployment of sound systems in the modulation of affect.

The argument is based on the contention that, to date, most theoretical discussions of the resonances of sound and music cultures with relations of power, in their amnesia of vibration, have a missing dimension. This missing dimension, xv Introduction and the ethico-aesthetic paradigm it beckons, will be termed the politics of frequency. In order to map this black hole, a specifically tuned transdisciplinary methodology is required that draws from philosophy, science, fiction, aesthetics, and popular culture against the backdrop of a creeping military urbanism. By constructing this method as a nonrepresentational ontology of vibrational force, and thus the rhythmic nexus of body, technology, and sonic process, some latent affective tendencies of contemporary urban cultures in the early-twenty-first century can be made manifest. A (dis)continuum of vibrational force, a vast, disjointed, shivering surface, will be constructed that traverses police and military research into acoustic means of crowd control, the corporate deployment of sonic branding, through to the intense sonic encounters of strains of sound art and music culture.

The book is neither merely an evolutionary or historical analysis of acoustic weaponry, nor primarily a critical-aesthetic statement on the use of sonic warfare as a metaphor within contemporary music culture. Along the way, various schemes will be indicated, including experiments with infrasonic weapons, the surreal “psycho-acoustic correction” waged by both the U.S. Army in Panama City and the FBI during the Waco siege, and the Maroons whose use of the abeng horn served as a fear inducer in their guerrilla tactics against the British colonialists in Jamaica. But this list is not a comprehensive historical survey. Similarly, a total story will not be told, or a critique waged against, the militarized (and usually macho) posturing that often takes place, from rock to hip-hop, within pockets of both white and black popular music. No doubt interesting things could be said about the amplified walls of sonic intensity and feedback deployed in rock, from Hendrix, to metal through to bands like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. But this is not a book about white noise—or guitars. Equally, while some attention will be devoted to the key, inventive, sonic processes of the African diaspora, a detailed analysis of the innovative politics of black noise and militarized stance of Public Enemy and the martial arts mythologies of the Wu Tang clan are sidestepped here, despite the fact that both could fit snugly into the following pages. Moreover, more conventional representational or economic problems in the politics of black music will be detoured in favor of an engagement with the speculative aesthetic politics suggested by Afrofuturism. Ultimately, Sonic Warfare is concerned with the production, transmission, and mutation of affective tonality.

Similarly, this book does not aim to be an all-encompassing survey of contemporary developments in military scientific research into sound. En route, xvi Introduction sonic booms over the Gaza Strip, long-range acoustic devices, and musical torture in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, directional ultrasound in supermarkets and high-frequency rat repellents deployed on teenagers will be listened out for. But this is not a catalogue of these objectionable deployments.

More disclaimers. Given that the themes of the book revolve around potential sensations of sonic intensity and the moods they provoke, both controlling and creative, it may strike some readers as strange that the topic of drugs has been omitted. From ganja to hashish, from cocaine to MDMA, from LSD to ketamin to amphetamine, the nexus of drugs and sonic sensation, the narcosonic, acts as an intensifier of acoustic sensations and serves as both a sensory and informational technology of experimentation, deployed by artists, musicians, producers, dancers, and listeners to magnify, enhance, and mutate the perception of vibration. The narcosonic can also function as a means to economic mobilization, with the lure of these intense experiences used as attractors to consumption within the sprawling network that now constitutes the global clubbing industry.

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