Methods of Genocide: The Abuses of the Soundscape in Extermination

Posted: October 19, 2010 in Evidence Material
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By Gordon Rumson– Other Voices, v.2, n.1 (February 2000)

A portion of the essence of a people is its landscape. This is usually considered from political/map-making and visual aspects as being the portion of the land that is perceptible to the eye.1 But an understanding of the culture of any people requires a larger grasping of the potential field of experience. This must include the “acoustic space” in which a people reside, which appears in two critical forms. First, is the sensory bias that determines the form of the space in which the people psychologically reside. Second, if a culture is affected by a landscape, then it is surely also affected by a crucial element of that landscape, what R. Murray Schafer has referred to as the ‘soundscape’.2

In genocidal madness it is not merely that the murderers kill the victims, not merely that they can destroy the landscape, but that by coercively altering the perceptual bias, by devastating the landscape, and thus ravaging the soundscape, the murderers destroy the culture, weaken the people, and expedite the completion of the genocidal program. Sensory bias and the soundscape are tools of destruction and also part of the field upon which the drama is acted. In order to grasp the methods of this program the nature of acoustic space and the soundscape must be detailed in a philosophic and practical sense. It is to this that we must turn.

Aspect One: Resident Space and the Sensory Bias

Each culture, as Spengler noted in his now out-of-fashion The Decline of the West, makes some decision (or realizes an inherent predisposition which Spengler might have called Destiny) about the nature of space in which the culture resides, which organizes its functioning and which uniquely characterizes that culture until its final collapse (or senility).3 It is a flaw of perspective that we believe that other cultures perceived the world in the same way as we. From this follows the question of how they did construct their spatial reality. According to Spengler, in Western culture it is the visual space of perspective and lines of force extending into infinity that defines our field of action, our space. Alternately, the Arabic culture takes the cave as its basic conception, with significant results for its intellectual and cultural development. Each civilization has made its choice or been given its ‘Destiny’ as the case may be. The definition of space may be a visual one. However, Spengler did not notice that some cultures chose to make use of the acoustic space as their prime representation. This in itself is a sensory distinction of great import.4

Until writing was invented, we lived in acoustic space, where the Eskimo now lives: boundless, directionless, horizonless, the dark of the mind, the world of emotion, primordial intuition, terror. Speech is a social chart of this dark bog.

Speech structures the abyss of mental and acoustic space, shrouding the voice, it is cosmic, invisible architecture of the human dark. Speak that I may see you.

Writing turned the spotlight on the high, dim Sierras of speech; writing was the visualisation of acoustic space. It lit up the dark.5

As is clear in these remarks by Marshall McLuhan, some cultures (primarily, though not exclusively, pre-literate) make use of the audio bias to define their sense of space. This refers both to the surrounding environment and to the psychic space (the space of the universe) that the people inhabit. Information of importance is deemed to come from auditory channels; important aspects of the world, the universe, the deity (or deities) are recognized by the ear; and human culture, nature, emotions and spirituality are acknowledged and expressed in sound. Societal roles and structures may be defined by sound or soundmaking characteristics. Thus in Ghana “Drums were often the emblem of the chief’s power.”6 It may even be that conflicts are resolved or understood within what might be called musical parameters.

According to some cosmologies and theogonies, the entire universe is sonic. “In this universe there is no form of knowledge that is not perceived through sound; knowledge is pierced through by sound; all the universe is but the result of sound” (Vakya Padiya, 1.124).7 Such a conception is drastically different from the Western scientific notions of truth and knowledge. Jacques Barzun writes in this regard (while also revealing his own and his culture’s bias):

For science…the eye is indispensable. Man is the eye par excellence; animals, mostly color-blind, rely on smell, and the sense of plants are a form of touch. From his other senses man infers the presence or subtle properties of things; from sight he thinks he has direct knowledge of reality. Sight is the controlling sense, that which makes us attend; we have to shut our eyes to sleep…Above all, sight is the exact sense, the only one which permits minute comparison: that we could take refined measurements without the aid of sight, or magnify the sense of touch, is hard to believe. Equally important, sight is the sense for ready agreement…8

The capacity of the visual bias to control and manipulate reality is fully exemplified in Western European technology. But how does an acoustic culture define its space; what are the characteristics of an acoustic culture with a sense of space derived from the phenomenon of sound?

When the sound of the church bells defines the extent of the parish boundaries, the culture has made a sensory bias choice. When events of significance are announced by special acoustic phenomena, when societal roles are directed or signaled by acoustic phenomena, then the bias is clear.9 In some locales the choice is not possible and the acoustic bias is obligatory, as in densely forested and jungle environments where sight is useless beyond a certain distance.10 An example of the sensory bias is the remarkable feats of memory demonstrated by acoustic cultures. In these cultures where scriptures are chanted or recited, vast amounts of information are memorized with high degrees of accuracy. In the visually biased culture of Greece, Rome and mediaeval Europe it was necessary for the secret science of the Art of Memory to develop.11 To the modern scientist the capacities of aural cultures are hardly credible.12 J.C. Carothers long ago noted:

By reason of the type of educational influences that impinge upon Africans in infancy and early childhood, and indeed throughout their lives, a man comes to regard himself as a rather insignificant part of a much larger organism—the family and the clan—and not as an independent, self-reliant unit; personal initiative and ambition are permitted little outlet; and a meaningful integration of a man’s experience on individual, personal lines is not achieved. By contrast to the constriction at the intellectual level, great freedom is allowed for at the temperamental level, and a man is expected to live very much in the ‘here and now,’ to be highly extroverted, and to give very free expression to his feelings.13

In commenting on this Marshall McLuhan says:

But the African child lives in the implicit, magical world of the resonant oral world. He encounters not efficient causes but formal causes of configurational field such as any non-literate society cultivates.14

The sensory bias of a culture is a crucial element of its psychic makeup and has important ramifications for that culture and its people. In acoustic cultures the sensory bias towards the auditory affects the manner in which the people think, and will also affect the manner in which they respond to dangers such as an external aggressor. It will also affect how they respond to manipulation by internal forces. A culture that values the sound as sacred will respond with sonic means to external pressures.

In 1981, the Wakuéni people of Venezuela enacted a series of musical rituals in response to the predatory economic sanctions of local merchants. These merchants (who had moved into the region during the 1970s) had diverted governmental aid to their own purposes and charged the residents highly inflated prices for these goods and services. After five years of exploitations the Wakuéni responded with the rituals. Various ceremonial exchanges, dances, duets, ensemble music and sacred dances from initiation rituals occurred. One such, the Kápetiápani or whip-dance (used in male initiation rituals), invoked “the great fiery transformation of the mythic primordium into an expanding world of political and material relations among distinct people…[which] evoke the very beginning of indigenous historical time, the moment when men and women began to construct their histories through the playing of sacred musical instruments that embodied the creative powers of the mythic ancestors.”15

In this way the people responded with a sonic event to the economic disturbances. Hill refers to the ceremonies “as a kind of semiotic ‘guerrilla warfare’.”16 The ceremonies were in direct reaction to the fundamental creation myth of the people where “the musicalization of mythic power generates a historical mode of social consciousness.”17 Hill notes that specific aspects of the ritual corresponded to the social context and “gave concrete symbolic expression to the local indigenous people’s desire for rapid social transformation.”18 As an example of the force of musical thinking, this is remarkable, though it is clearly also part of the shamanistic practice. However, crucial to the ceremony and its purpose is the underlying acoustic bias and recognition of the auditory realm as one of potency and significance.19

In order to grasp how a culture can be murdered or otherwise eliminated, it is important to take into consideration how it is constituted. The acoustic element, the sensory bias cannot be ignored any more than it can be ignored how the people are identified for slaughter (language, insignia, skin color, ethnicity). The death of a culture can likewuse be achieved through manipulation of the acoustic bias, for a culture is more than the physicality of bodies which can be murdered.

The introduction of literacy in 19th century colonies, far from being a gift, may actually be viewed as a coercive method of sensory reeducation to suit the methods of the imperialist nations. For as McLuhan said, “The interiorization of the technology of the phonetic alphabet translates man from the magical world of the ear to the neutral visual world.”20 Once in the visual world the imperialists are at an advantage because of their further advanced acclimatization in that realm while the subjects are both deprived of their magic world and relegated to subordinate status in a world they have not mastered. This reeducation may be compulsory, or merely a part of the attempt of the conquered peoples to integrate into the conqueror’s society. Ibn Khuldun wrote: “The vanquished always seek to imitate their victors in their dress, insignia, belief, and other customs and usages. This is because men are always inclined to attribute perfection to those who have defeated and subjugated them.”21

It is hardly much more to say that the vanquished will seek to see the world as their conquerors do, and it is but a small step to say that they will soon perceive the world in the manner of the conquerors. When this is convenient for the conquerors it is allowed. When it advances the program of genocide by adding the help of collaborators, it is encouraged. Should it interfere with the process of murder, it will be forbidden.22

The obliteration of religious practices, the desecration of sacred sites, are part of the sensory alteration process. Nor should we forget the uses and abuses of language, since the banning of languages forms part of the genocidal program. To the visually biased culture, language is a tool to be used in the advance of ego, economic or political aims. In an aural culture language is divine. “The Brahmanical tradition stemming from the Veda takes language as of divine origin (Daivi Vak), as Spirit descending and embodying itself in phenomena, assuming various guises and disclosing its real nature to the sensitive soul.”23

Language, as an expression of the inner life is a sounding event that is both formed by and forms the perceptual nature of humankind and the culture. Should it be altered or desecrated, the spiritual life of the people will suffer gravely—precisely the intent of the conquerors. To rename places and people, to even mispronounce the words (as the conquerors are most likely to do when they speak the language of the conquered) is to commit a crime against the divinity therein expressed. The burning of the sacred texts, horrific in itself, is accompanied by a desecration of the sacred acoustic realm in which the words of that people’s God exists.24

Music, in-so-far as it is part of the sensory bias, is relevant to an understanding of the culture and its death.

In societies such as that of the Venda, however, the claim can be made that what is important and central to the culture is the continued reproduction of society as a cohesive and integrated unit…Music, as a medium of communication that mediates so powerfully and directly between the individual and the society, is understood, certainly intuitively and maybe even consciously, to be a force of fundamental importance to society. In manifesting and giving back to society in a concrete, perceptible and recognizable form its own textures, motions and rhythms it makes possible for the individual, through an emphasis on integration, a greater sense of self.25

Overall, the various signs and markers of the sensory bias in any culture are fit targets for the genocidal program. When these outer manifestations are destroyed, corrupted, altered or reeducated, then the underlying aspects of the culture’s way of existence and mode of spatial recognition are compromised and eventually ravaged. This can only be considered convenient by the conquerors.

Aspect Two: The Soundscape

Quite apart from the overarching acoustic sensory bias, an important aspect of the overall landscape in all cases, of the overall environment of a locale, is its soundscape. The concept of the soundscape and its philosophical and scientific rationale is derived from the work of the Canadian composer, author and researcher, R. Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project established at Simon Fraser University (British Columbia, Canada) in 1970.

The project’s intention was to study all aspects of the changing soundscape to determine how these changes might affect people’s thinking and social activities. The project’s ultimate aim was to create a new art and science of soundscape design complementary to those other disciplines dealing with aspects of the visual environment.26

Schafer and the team on the World Soundscape Project had to devise new terms to describe hitherto unnoticed phenomena and to develop strategies and methods for their strict study. The result was the publication in 1977 of The Tuning of the World, a seminal book of vast and wide-ranging import to cultural analysis. Of the term ‘soundscape’27 Schafer says it is, ” …any acoustic field of study. We may speak of a musical compositions as a soundscape, or a radio program as a soundscape or an acoustic environment as a soundscape. We can isolate an acoustic environment as a field of study just as we can study the characteristics of a given landscape…A soundscape consists of events heard not objects seen.”28 Schafer says of acoustic space and the soundscape: “The world of sound is primarily one of sensation rather than reflection. It is a world of activities rather than artifacts…”29 This accords with the observation noted above that pre-literate peoples are more highly extroverted. Such a characteristic would follow from the acoustic auditory bias in such cultures.

Among the features of the soundscape Schafer distinguishes several terms:

Keynote sounds: Those sounds heard by a particular culture continuously or frequently enough to form a background against which other sounds are perceived (The Tuning of the World, 272).

Signals: Foreground sounds which must be listened to consciously…because they constitute acoustic warning devices (The Tuning of the World, 10).

Soundmarks: The term derived from landmark to refer to a community sound which is unique or possesses qualities which make it specially regarded or noticed by the people of that community (The Tuning of the World, 274).

The soundscape is a crucial element for grasping the character of a people, their culture and the essence of their existence. First to be considered is the keynote sound since it provides the fundamental background for the soundscape. Examples would be the sound of the sea for coastal dwellers, the omnipresent sound of wind in trees among forest inhabitants, and the sound of cars in a community next to an interstate. These sounds may be consciously recognized or even be entirely submerged in awareness. William James in writing on inattention notes:

We do not notice the ticking of the clock, the noise of the city streets, or the roaring of the brook near the house; and even the din of a foundry or factory will not mingle with the thoughts of its workers, if they have been there long enough…The cause of the unconsciousness is certainly not the mere blunting of the sense organs. Were the sensation important, we should notice it well enough; and we can at any moment notice it by expressly throwing our attention upon it.30

An as an illustration of this James adds the following anecdote: “M. Delbœlf somewhere narrates how, sleeping in the country near a mill-dam, he woke in the night and thought the water had ceased to flow, but on looking out of the open window saw it flowing in the moonlight, and then heard it too.”31

Such keynote sounds will be felt by their cessation and the disruption of the sound source will be recognized. For sounds that provide comfort of sense of belonging or place their termination will cause a disruption of the psychological balance, if only by causing attention to be given to the now absent sound.

One of the most influential keynotes of the early urban landscape must have been the clatter of horse’s hooves, everywhere evident over cobblestone streets, and different from the hollow tramp of hooves on the open ground. Leigh Hunt writes of the night journey by coach when the only way the traveler knew he was passing through a town was the sharpening of the hoofbeat. Returning to the country road, ‘the moist circuit of the wheels, and the time-beating tread of the horses’ eventually hypnotize even the most wakeful passenger.32

The end of keynote sounds could betoken a massive change in the environment or culture structure, which would undoubtedly have a major impact on the people. To deport a sea-people inland and to clear-cut forests are two examples. Alternately, the shift from horse-drawn transit to automobile has equally altered cultural patterns by removing characteristic sounds that were of long standing psychological habit. The removal of such a keynote sound would be equivalent to the destruction of significant architectural structures such as mosques or synagogues.

Signals are momentary acoustic definers of significance; such as the tocsin, or bells of alarm. The modern air raid siren is their descendant, but the alarm sound is well known to all from ambulances and fire trucks. Each such sound is designed to produce emotional reactions of a high order. They thus have shock value and are always capable of being perceived above the ambient noise of the community. African communicative drumming with their instrumental emphasis on lower frequencies is an adjustment to the sound character of the dense jungle environment and soundscape.

Other examples of signals are those that inform the people of significant events. Until the early 1920s Europe had an elaborate system of horns and horn melodies to announce the arrival of mail (hence the term post-horn) which differentiated the point of origin and method of conveyance for all to know by hearing. It should come as no surprise that 19th century music made use of the horn as an omnipresent background and glue for the orchestral texture—as the postal system was the societal glue holding the various states and peoples together; while the sound of the horn took on a forlorn and longing character in musical composition that must clearly be associated with the hope for good news and good fortune from afar that were heard in the post horn’s call.

The Islamic culture has the call to prayer (adhan) from the minaret of the mosque. This occurs each Friday for the holy service and five times a day for prescribed prayers (morning, noon, afternoon, sunset, evening). This cyclic repetition of the call to worship God may be taken as a representative of the order of the universe with its seasonal, daily and momentary variation.33 In the modern cities of the Islamic world the call to prayer is now amplified by loudspeaker which is in itself a comment on the soundscape (made far noisier due to traffic and population density) as well as a comment on the use of Western technology for traditional purposes.34

Soundmarks are unique identifiers for specific locations or cultures. It may be the sound of a factory or in a non-industrial environment, the sound of waterfalls, or the boiling fields of sulphur to be heard in New Zealand.35 Its presence and recurrence supports the fragile ego of the human and assists in continuity of culture and perception while also providing information for human action. “At the time when you hear the cry of the crane begin the winter planting” (Hesiod: Works and Days).36

In some ways, for those acoustic cultures sound will be more informative than any visual or even economic description. Schafer notes:

Another example: a man walks across the snow. You know the temperature from the sound of his footsteps. This is a different way of perceiving the environment; one in which the sensorium is undivided; one which recognizes that all information is interconnected.37

Thus, in a cold, harsh climate, for an acoustic culture, more can be learned from a sound than from appearance. However, even for visually biased societies there remain sonic events that provide information, set standards of action, define roles and provide continuity. The more a culture is acoustic in nature the more such soundmarks there will be and the more reverence and significance they will be accorded. In Western culture the disinterest in sound has resulted in the obliteration of soundmarks by rising ambient noise and the banning of some soundmaking events as irritations (such as church bell ringing).38

The importance of the soundscape is revealed.

It is in sounds that the worlds becomes palpable and complete. Without them the earth is barren and its objects remain ‘hidden’. Then the post horn or the train whistle is the sound that comes from far away (that is to say, it carries the symbolism of distance and travel wherever or whenever it is heard), just as the storyteller’s voice is the sound that comes from long ago. And the lover’s voice kisses the air near one, and the child’s laughter echoes into the future. Extension and duration acquire an immediacy that visual experience can neither emulate nor even suggest.39

Through the characteristic keynotes, signals and soundmarks of the place, the people develop aspects of their culture, preferences for understanding the environment, themselves and the overarching world structure, while also defining specific features of their psychic world. If the presence of a soundscape encourages certain cultural ramifications, the obliteration of those features will prove as detrimental to the psychic well-being and integration of a people as the destruction of more overt economic or cultural conditions.

Methods of Genocide

The outright murder of large groups of people, the forced expulsions, the pogroms, are all vastly complex undertakings which frequently the most evil will can barely succeed in effecting. Thus, the ‘best’ efforts of the Nazis were insufficient to entirely eradicate the ‘offensive’ Jews (and others) from their society. Similarly, though the Khmer Rouge seemed intent on the end of the Cambodian people in toto, they ‘succeeded’ in destroying only part of the population. There do not seem to be enough arrows, bullets, not enough gas chambers, nor enough ovens, for the completion of the process. This is significant since sometimes even a scattered remnant of a once thriving culture can become the bane of the conquerors (as for example the Afghans throughout their beleaguered history, or the Irish in respect of the British Imperium). In a word, it is not enough to butcher a people in order to commit genocide, it is necessary to use other methods to facilitate the programme and insure its success.

The obvious methods of economic restriction hardly need comment. The targeting of pertinent cultural structures, the banning of language use, the eradication of religious practices, the institution of residential schools for children, can all be added to further more elaborate, but often less obvious, forms of cultural genocide. Thus, the battle between the Early Christian Church and the local Celtic Druidic culture devolved into a shameless desecration of the sacred groves—leading to a purely Western European habit of deforestation that remains characteristic and which is easily exported. The encouragement of the slaughter of the buffalo by railroad building gangs in 19th century America and Canada is a further example.

But even less overt methods are usable in the process of genocide. Any method that undermines the skill and economic base is suitable. So is any method which destroys the sense of self and physical presence. Remove the economic mainstay of a culture. Remove its skill base. Remove the sense of self of the people (change their names). Despoil the physical environment. Restrict the modes of dress. And remove the attachments of the culture to its past (burning of books and destruction of records or forbid storytelling). The end effect is the destruction of the people by another force, and even if some people survive, they will be sufficiently marginalized and denuded of importance that they become useful workers, or scapegoats for the dominant conquerors. If genocide cannot be completed, then it may be rendered unnecessary.

The Alteration of the Sensory Bias and the Destruction of the Soundscape as Concomitants to Genocide

All of these methods are part of the visual sense, the economic predisposition and the intellectual process. The processes follow from a simple materialistic approach to genocide. Above and beyond outright murder, by destroying what is deemed important the dominating culture can succeed. Even within the framework of the most intellectually rigid view (say 18th century Age of Enlightenment intellectualism) other modes of existence must be destroyed as part of the program. Thus, it was very convenient (for the empire builders) that European culture at this time viewed the folk tale as a mere child’s pastime when it subjugated Eastern and African cultures where the folk tale was a repository of knowledge and history. By denying the cultural artifact they could undermine the defenses of the culture both in their own minds (making murder easier by considering the people less so or childish) and in the minds of their subjects.

It is also possible to eradicate a culture by the enforced adoption of another dominant sensorium. The effect is a kind of psychic emasculation which can then be used by the conquerors to enslave and subjugate the people and simplify the process of genocide. Generally this has been by the destruction of acoustic cultures by the western dominantly visual culture. This alteration strikes at the very root of a culture’s choices, character and predispositions based on history, climate, landscape and traditions in a manner that exceeds in destructiveness virtually any other single method.

The advantage of visualism is its capacity to develop techne subservient to individual ego-force. The acoustic culture is partial to a genial acceptance of reality and such cultures attempt to integrate humanity into the patterns of existence rather than manipulate those patterns for personal or societal gain. Even the overtly manipulative shamanistic activities can usually be better understood as attempts to reintegrate disharmonious situations into optimal conditions.

The alteration of one form of sensory bias to another is a form of cultural destruction when it is enforced and even when it occurs as part of a process. The destruction can occur in the form of renaming of places. The local culture has its history desecrated by the obliteration of the crucial and magical naming process. If names and their sounds are magical markers of the culture’s essence then the renaming has the effect of a magical incantation of hideously destructive force.

The renaming of individuals creates a bifurcation of their personalities, undermines their sense of self, and effectively destroys their magical connection with the spirit world. Further, it places the named in a subservient role to the name-giver as that prerogative has always been reserved for the most powerful forces within and without the world. The named becomes psychic thrall and it is but one step further to outright slavery. This renaming process is used so frequently that it is clear that even materialistic, scientific cultures accept the potency of the naming process in a magical sense. Even the most visual of cultures is not far from the acoustic realm.

The slower introduction of transformative elements— new words, new songs, new soundmarks can also assist in the genocide programme. Some of these are introduced merely by the physical presence of the conquerors and others are introduced by active effort. The use of English as the lingua franca in the East Indian subcontinent certainly had an effect on the cultural patters which had been dissociative politically, but were rendered even more acute by the presence of a third force.

It is also possible to achieve the same ideas by altering the soundscape and so damage the fragile interaction of peoples and their place. Generally the most crucial device used in 19th century Imperialism was the railroad—not viewed merely from its altered patterns of time and physical organization, but above all soundscape effects. The very sound of these giant machines announced with each arrival and departure the power, significance and dominance of the Imperialist colonizers—again being reminded of the exclusivity of the railroad. It may be that the reason that the British could not subjugate the Afghans was that they could not build a railroad into the Hindu Kush region. The Russians were reduced to building roads in the 1970s which facilitated their invasion in 1979, but which proved of dubious value since they could be used by anyone with a truck. The railroad, its methods, its time frame and above all its sound capacity, are exclusive to the owners.

We also see conquerors banning songs and ceremonies. The Ghost Dance religion in the 19th century was recognized immediately as a great threat to white culture dominance—and suppressed accordingly.40 The mythology of the Australian aborigines:

Speaks of a “dream time,” when legendary totemic creatures wandered the continent and sang a name for everything they met—beasts, plants, stones, ponds—thus singing the world into life. For the natives of the land did not exist before they saw it and sung it. They believed that a land that was not sung was a dead land, since if the songs were forgotten, the land itself would die. To allow this to happen would be the worst of all possible crimes.41

Evidently, for any culture that believes this, to have its ceremonies, dances or music altered or forbidden would be a crime of high order. And when languages are forbidden, this is more than merely the economic effect (and disability effect—people forced to operate in a different language are frequently less effective, compare the immigrant’s experience). For languages assist in the definition of reality not only by their verbal form, but also their acoustic form.

We also see the introduction of foreign sound effects: the sound of gunshot to North America certainly played a part in subjugating the indigenous population since by its suddenness and volume it exceeded the potency of any hitherto known naturally or culturally occurring signal (save the thunder itself—the sonic prerogative of the gods themselves). The resultant emotional stress (caused by hearing a man-made sound of divine proportions from the hands of other humans and later themselves) surely created an acoustic schizophrenia and self-doubt that was obviously of use to the conquerors. The use of locomotive engines altered the American prairie soundscape as did the establishment of cities with the ceaseless urban din.42

The general soundscape can also be destroyed. The complex soundscape of a jungle environment is silenced when the trees are gone. It is as if the individual had been magically and demonically transported to a distant, hellish realm—though within range of his own home. The birds, the gurgling brooks are all silent in the face of a chainsaw. That sound then becomes the acoustic symbol of cultural genocide.

Finally, sound is the voice of the power holders. Along with control of the soundscape, of the sensory bias, and of music, there is the meta-issue of who is entitled to make the Sacred Noise. Those who are entitled to make the sounds are the rulers. They are also entitled to enforce the sound practice upon the slaves. This occurs when locals are given chainsaw to participate in the destruction of the forests or when local music is altered by the introduction of foreign elements. In distinction from all other man-made sounds the proprietor of the Sacred Noise “is licensed to make the loudest noise without censure.”43 In genocide this right is denied to the target population and taken over by the conquerors.

Considering that the Jews of Europe in the 19th century filled the ranks of the great and accomplished musicians, it is not surprising to note that the Nazi government spent great efforts at the highest levels in removing them from the stages as performers and composers.44 In so far as a musician, poet, or author gives voice to a people and is entitled to make sacred sounds (an associated idea to the Sacred Noise) of speech or music, then the genocidal murderers must silence them.

And as music assists in the definition of culture and of the psyche then any alteration in style or format of musical utterance will result in a change in both culture and psyche. For example, indigenous cultures often make use of the drone in musical structures. This ‘simple’ device—according to western musical ideation—may in fact be viewed as an expression of the underlying Ground of Being which supports all existence and from which all existence flows to return again at the end time. The display of being upon the surface with the drone in the background is a powerful expression of the Universal order. Western musical culture, which is active both temporally in a rigid fashion (fixed meter and dance/march rhythms) and propulsive harmonically (the drive towards the cadence pattern of Baroque music and the Classical era), while also being vigorous at the surface level, does not possess a centre nor a stable Ground. In its manner, it can be seen to represent Western culture’s machinelike order, typographic bias, democratic surface within a despotic structure (as in much jazz, where the soloist is free to improvise over a recurrent, yet unstable, harmonic pattern), factory style (where numerous participants make small contributions to the large structure in the same way that factory workers unite to create the finished product), ego source and justification (in that art music is created by a specific individual for the gratification of other individuals independently and in masses) and goal oriented drive. Throughout the world we can see the effects on indigenous musical cultures of the imperialist Western music. Generally, the local cultures become imitative of Western styles and barely succeed in retaining characteristic features of their own.

If a people can be evaluated by the nature of their music then the changes that are inflicted can also be foreseen. In Western Imperialism the use of Western music can be seen to be based on the introduction of march rhythms into the culture. This martial stress assisted in the regimentation of European society suitable for the development of industrialization, while in the colonies it assisted in the destruction of the integrative approach common to acoustic cultures. The march ravaged the cultures by turning their Eden into a parade ground. The recent militarism of African politics is merely an end product of such influences.

When a culture is denied its acoustic rights it withers. When the people cannot speak their tongue, sing the songs of their hearts and hear the sacred sounds that define their places and prove their connection with the earth and Life they are doomed. This is well known to conquerors…and so goes the genocidal madness.



1. “The Apollonian soul had tried to tie down the meaning of things-become by means of the principle of visible limits; its taboo was focused upon the immediately-present and proximate alien…Home, for Classical man, is what he can see from the citadel of his native town and no more. All that lay beyond the visual range of this political atom was alien, and hostile to boot; beyond that narrow range, fear set in at once, and hence the appalling bitterness with which these petty towns strove to destroy one another.” Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West: Form and Actuality, trans. Charles Francis Atkinson (New York, 1926, Volume I, 83). And we read: “Every culture possesses a proper conception of home and fatherland, which is hard to comprehend, scarcely to be expressed in words, full of dark metaphysical relations, but nevertheless unmistakable in its tendency. The Classical home-feeling which tied the individual corporally and Euclidean-ly to the Polis is the very antithesis of that enigmatic “Heimweh” of the Northerner which has something musical, soaring and unearthly in it” (Volume 1, 334). Alternately, Buckminster Fuller, beginning with the Dymaxion World Map which “shows one world island in one world ocean with no breaks in the continental contours and with no visible distortion of the relative size or shape of any of the cartographic patterning,” Critical Path (New York, 1981, 3), states “The vital factor that determines social patterns, human preoccupations, and economic customs of those dwelling in different geographic environments depends on how cold it gets, not how hot.” That is, inventiveness must be enhanced where temperature variation is greatest, for “If you live by Lake Victoria in eastern Africa and you wish to cross it, you will invent a wooden boat. If you live beside Lake Baikal in central Siberia and you wish to cross that body of water, you will invent a wooden boat in the summer and skates and sled in the winter” (4). Thus, Fuller derives a speculative history of humanity from his observations of his unique map design. The visual element predominates while also allowing in this case for interesting and fruitful suggestions.

2. It should be noted that music, as generally understood, is a subset of the acoustic environment, and while very important to the current discussion, remains only a portion of the matter. The differentiation is crucial as there might be a tendency to dismiss music and its relation to genocide as an ancillary phenomenon, while the overall soundscape is of crucial significance. This essay is deeply indebted to the work of the Canadian composer, author, philosopher and creator R. Murray Schafer. With deep respect the author wishes to thank him for his contributions to culture and dedicates this essay to him.

3. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West: Form and Actuality, 161.

4. It should be noted that resident space is usually not considered significant. The reason for this is the facile assumption that all people perceive space in a similar, simple three dimensional fashion. Again, this is a Western assumption based on a visual bias. For example, “the world of everyday life is structured both spatially and temporally. The spatial structure is quite peripheral to our present considerations. Suffice to point out that it, too, has a social dimension by virtue of the fact that my manipulatory zone intersects with that of others. More important for our present purpose is the temporal structure of everyday life,” in Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York, 1967, 26). The underlying assumption here is materialistic and atomistic: that since bodies exist. the only relevance is the interaction of those bodies in material space. However, even a brief glimpse at modern physics will tell us that bodies as solid objects are constructions. The effect must be a reconsideration of the concept of space; not merely its dismissal into a peripheral area.

5. Passage quoted in R. Murray Schafer, Voices of Tyranny: Temples of Silence (Arcana Editions, 1993, 29). It is necessary to disentangle certain difficulties with McLuhan’s comments, which are those of the visually biased intellectual faced with an unknown region. McLuhan’s comments might be compared with Jung’s investigation of the ‘collective unconscious’ which to the Western mind is a vast dark abyss. To the Eastern mind—which is primarily acoustic in bias—this is not necessarily the case. Cf. Mohammad Shafii, Freedom from the Self, New York, 1985, for a comparison of Jungian and Freudian psychoanalysis with Sufi spirituality and Avincenna’s remarkably sophisticated psychological philosophy.

6. Raymond Williams, The African Drum (Highland Park College Press, 1973), 10.

7. Quoted in Music and the Power of Sound by Alain Daniélou (Rochester, 1995), 58.

8. Jacques Barzun, Science: The Glorious Entertainment (Toronto, 1964), 85. On the other hand Roger Reynolds writes: “The ear is preeminently a time-sensitive organ and its capacities are astonishing. It is far more rapid and accurate in temporal matters than the eye, which has a relatively long receptor latency period, and is able to deal with distinctions involving periods as small as 1/10,000 parts of a second. Visually on the other hand, a motion picture running at a rate of 24 still shots per second produces the illusion of continuous movement or stability”, in Mind Models: New Forms of Musical Experience (New York, 1975), 80. Clearly the reason for this difference of opinion as to relative merits of the eye and ear is an issue of bias and assumption.

9. In Bells and Man, 1983 (New York: Percival) provides many examples of the use of bells in European culture; some of import and some trivial, such as: “in Rottenburg-am-Neckar, where a bell was rung fortnightly to remind innkeepers to turn in their bad coins.” 152.

10.The culture of aquatic mammals is by necessity acoustic. The largest single barrier to communication is human visual development against aquatic mammalian acoustic development. The difference is so vast that even acoustically biased humans are still at a disadvantage. The destruction of ocean mammals in spite of their obvious intelligence is a further example of the thesis of this essay.

11. Cf. Ars Memorativa: An Introduction To the Hermetic Art of Memory by John Michael Greer (at and also Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (Chicago, 1966). Greer writes: “In Roman schools of rhetoric, this approach to memory was refined into a precise and practical system. Students were taught to memorize the insides of large buildings according to certain rules, dividing the space into specific loci or “places” and marking every fifth and tenth locii with special signs. Facts to be remembered were converted into striking visual images and places, one after another, into these loci;…at a more advanced level, images could be created for individual words and sentences, so that large passages of text could be stored in the memory in the same way.” In an acoustic culture such capacities would be a foregone conclusion.

12. For example, in the chapter “Rumours and Folk-tales” by Ian Hunter, in Memory (U.K: Harmondsworth, revised edition, 1964), 176-183, the visual bias reduces pre-literate cultural expression to the point of nullity. Murray Schafer perceptively remarks “The visual society is always amazed at the aural retentativeness of people who have not yet passed through the visual phase. The Qur-an, the Kalevala and the Illiad were once memorised” (Voices of Tyranny: Temples of Solitude, 166). Indeed the Qu’ran and other scriptures still are memorised indicating the survival of the auditory bias in Islamic and other cultures.

13. J.C. Carothers in Psychiatry (November, 1959), quoted in Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (Toronto, 1962 reprinted 1967), 18. The phrase “and a meaningful integration of a man’s experience on individual, personal lines is not achieved” deserves to be noted as it accords with Oswald Spengler’s observations on the form of Western man’s space: lines of force and perspective all emanating from a personal, individual ego.

14. McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, 19.

15. Johnathan D. Hill, “Musicalizing the Other: Shamanistic Approaches to Ethnic-Class Competition along the Upper Rio Negro,” in Enchanting Powers: Music in the World’s Religions, edited by Lawrence E. Sullivan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 139 and passim.

16. Hill, 142. The Wakuéni creation myth is altogether acoustic in its nature.

17. Hill, 147.

18. Hill, 155.

19. As an aside, the influence of music in German culture ca. 1850-1920 was probably of enormous import to the rise of Adolph Hitler who made use of the radio (and the acoustic bias) to gain, maintain and accumulate power. Not only did he play upon the effectiveness of the radio as a tool for tribal response but he played so to an audience that was acoustically aware. The Germans had long thought themselves the proprietors of the best and highest of Western, if not world, music. McLuhan commented the “Germans and the Japanese, while far advanced in literate and analytic technology, retained the core of auditory tribal unity and total togetherness” (The Gutenberg Galaxy, 29).

20. McLuhan, Gutenberg Galaxy, 18.

21. Charles Issawi, trans., An Arab Philosophy of History: Selections from the Prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun of Tunis (1332-1406) (London: John Murray, reprinted 1958), 53. It must be noted that this statement is only partially true and examples of opposite behavior can easily be found. The implication for the discussion here is that in some cases cultures imbibe the sensory bias of the conquerors.

22. The situation in Iraq during 1999 may be taken as an example of this. When the nation state of Iraq was useful in geopolitical machinations its government was provided with many benefits by the Western powers, not least ‘modern’ education methods and materials. When the government of Iraq had accumulated skills, altered its perceptual bias sufficiently well enough to operate the technological methodology of the West and also learned the psychology of warfare implicit in this methodology, the pursuance of a war with Kuwait resulted in ‘Desert Storm’ and horrific subsequent and ongoing international economic punishment. It may be that the situation will resolve itself only when Iraq is reduced to a post-literate, post modern barbaric culture. Iraq’s government has not yet learned that it is not acceptable to the Western powers that a people such as live in Iraq play Western political and military games.

23. T.R.V. Mutri quoted in Harold G. Coward, The Shpota Theory of Language, Motilal (Banarsidass: Delhi: 1980), 7.

24. The sonorous quality of each ‘founding book’, that is the initial scripture of a people, is crucial to the nature of the culture it helps to create. We can consider the sound nature of the Vulgate intoned by invisible priests in vast acoustic realms of the mediaeval churches and cathedrals; of the Koran, chanted and recited; the King James Bible, with a sonorous quality most akin to Shakespeare and co-equal with that corpus in the creation of English literature and culture; the Vedas, and so on. In order to understand the culture fully, one must understand the sound—and its effects—of the text. To omit this is to emasculate the sensorium.

25. John Shepherd, Music as Social Text (Cambridge, 1991), 216.

26. R. Murray Schafer, Voices of Tyranny, 30.

27. According to Schafer these are translated as le paysage sonore in French and sonosphere in Polish. This last makes for an interesting connection with the noosphere of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The idea of a surrounding sphere of activation (intellectual, moral, electronic or sonic) seems to have a great deal of ‘resonance’ in modern and post-modern thought.

28. Schafer, The Tuning of the World, 7-8.

29. Schafer, Voices of Tyranny, 31.

30. William James, The Principles of Psychology, (New York, reprint 1950 of the edition of 1890), Volume 1, 455.

31. James, 455 (fn).

32. Schafer, The Tuning of the World, 62-3.

33. This is significant in Islamic thought as Allah is considered to recreate the universe at every moment. For a sample of Islamic cyclical ideas see Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Tufail, trans. Raid Kocache, The Journey of the Soul: The Story of Hai bin Yaqzan, London, 1982. Ibn Tufail lived ca. 1100 to 1185 and was known in the West as Abubacer.

34. Further, occasionally one learns of tape recordings of the call to prayer used in various mosques by especially accomplished mu’adhdhin (muezzin). This is a startling and subtle change because it counteracts the uniqueness of individual worship into a larger aggregate. Those in Cairo may be called by the same voice as the residents of Damascus. Can the Pan-Arabic movement be attributed to such minor changes? Or is it that the Pan-Arabic movement is here exemplified in an acoustic, and undeniably modern, fact?

35. Schafer, The Tuning of the World, 26.

36. Quoted in Schafer, Voices of Tyranny, 166.

37. Schafer, Voices of Tyranny, 166.

38. The various use of bells described in Bells and Man (see note 9), especially in mediaeval Europe are vestiges of the aural culture. These sounds and their practical applications have been eradicated, ignored or covered over by technological society.

39. Schafer, Voices of Tyranny, 42-3. The use of the phrases “Once upon a time…” or “Once there was, and once there was not…” are part of the repertory of every storyteller as an opening gambit. The temporal framework is established in the distance that is also near—a quintessentially acoustic phenomena (as for instance the sound of wolves, which are always too close not to fear, no matter how far away the sound’s true source).

40. For more information, as well as an indication of the speed with which action was taken by the Washington government, see James Mooney, The Ghost Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890, Chicago, 1965.

41. Eero Tarasti, A Theory of Musical Semiotics (Bloomington, 1994), 77.

42. Alcohol may be cited as a disruptive force in colonization, but how much is its use the attempt to numb the mind and ears from the frightful noise of the imported ‘civilization’? Research into the effects of alcohol on hearing acuity would be of interest.

43. Schafer, Voices of Tyranny, 35.

44. The Nazi genocide included action against musicians and the defense of Jews by Wilhelm Furtwängler, the most important conductor in Germany, was clearly recognized as a significant threat to the Nazi program. In a materialist retrospect (and materialistic science is almost always deaf, see Barzun above) the position, relevance and importance of Furtwüngler is incomprehensible. His ability to assist Jews evade arrest or escape the country is not commensurate with his role as ‘mere musician.’ However, when one considers the acoustic aspect, then his position is magnified enormously and his resistance becomes almost heroic. For complete information see, Sam H. Shirakawa, The Devil’s Music Master, New York, 1992.


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