Watch Al Jazeera’s ‘Songs of War’ with Christopher Cerf

The Arabic news network demonstrate how music can be used as a form of torture.

Music is known to be therapeutic and calming; it makes people happy, makes people move, and also makes us think. On May 30th, Emma Warren raised this point in her blog, focusing on Professor Nigel Osbourne who studies the links between music and its therapeutic affects on traumatised children in Uganda, Palestine and the border of Thailand and Myanmar. You can read her piece and watch videos of Nigel Osbourne speaking here. Emma’s account of her visit to a talk at London’s Science Museum highlighted something we all know has a constant influence on us, but (perhaps because it’s so obvious) it’s also a fact that is rarely raised in the forefront of music analysis.

In contrast with this beautiful aspect of music raised by the long-time music journalist, it was really interesting to see one of our favourite labels, Hyperdub, point out some opposing effects that music has upon us as humans. It took the form of a link to Al Jazeera’s film ‘Songs of War’ posted on their Twitter today. The programme focuses on Sesame Street composer Christopher Cerf, who found out in 2003 that his music made for children’s learning purposes had been used as a form of torture in Guantanamo Bay. He speaks of his horror of “music being perverted to serve evil” and spends this 50-minute documentary asking “What is it about music that would make it work for that purpose?”, while looking at things such as the musical torture guidelines drafted by the CIA that are used to get prisoners to ‘speak’.

Both insights highlighted here look at completely contrasting methods of manipulative musical use. One thing they do have in common, though, is that both studies focus on the psychological effects, both good and awfully bad, that music has on us. They are interesting reminders of the length to which crafted sound impacts our lives and minds.

Watch the ‘Songs of War’ documentary above, and read Al Jazeera’s full description of ‘Songs of War’ here.

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