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Friday, February 09, 2007

Position Statement on Torture (February 2, 2007)

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On behalf of the Society for Ethnomusicology the SEM Board of Directors approves the Position Statement against the Use of Music as Torture, which originated in the SEM Ethics Committee and has the unanimous support of the Board of Directors.

The Society for Ethnomusicology condemns the use of torture in any form. An international scholarly society founded in 1955, the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) and its members are devoted to the research, study, and performance of music in all historical periods and cultural contexts. The SEM is committed to the ethical uses of music to further human understanding and to uphold the highest standards of human rights. The Society is equally committed to drawing critical attention to the abuse of such standards through the unethical uses of music to harm individuals and the societies in which they live. The U.S. government and its military and diplomatic agencies has used music as an instrument of abuse since 2001, particularly through the implementation of programs of torture in both covert and overt detention centers as part of the war on terror.

The Society for Ethnomusicology

  • calls for full disclosure of U.S. government-sanctioned and funded programs that design the means of delivering music as torture;
  • condemns the use of music as an instrument of torture; and
  • demands that the United States government and its agencies cease using music as an instrument of physical and psychological torture.
Suggested link

For further information on the American history and praxis of using music as an instrument of torture, the Society for Ethnomusicology recommends the following article:

Suzanne Cusick, “Music as Torture, Music as Weapon,” Revista Transcultural de Música/Transcultural Music Review 10 (2006).
posted by Mac Tíre at 5:43 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 8:05 AM, Blogger Dharmonia

    Cusick delivered this article as a paper at AMS in LA back November. The room was jammed to the rafters and about 90 degrees; the paper, however, was bone-chilling. AMS should follow the lead of SEM, as should ASCAP, BMI, and every other major American music organization.

    Meanwhile, it is the volume and the incessant sound input that creates the torture, not the music itself. At AMS there were many cracks about the fact that the soldiers often use stuff off of "their own tapes" - particularly heavy metal and hip-hop. People were inclined to assume that says something about our own music (other people find our music torture?). Actually, it does not. Anything played incessantly at that decibel level decibels is torture. (Another of their favorites is, God help us, the theme from Barney.) The real question regarding ourselves, I should think, is that we pay to go to concerts where music is blasted at us at 130 decibels for 3 hours. But then, we know it's going to stop, and we know we can leave.

    OK, that comment was way longer than I intended!