Exploring the relationship between sound, music and violence

Violence and war shift the limits and thresholds of the usual soundscapes, permanently transforming the listeners’ acoustic landmarks and capacities. Furthermore, because violence “is always an attack upon a person’s dignity, sense of selfhood, and future”,1 it upsets and reconfigures the boundaries between sound, noise and silence, between what is sayable and what is not. However, associating music with the violence, destruction and atrocities of war is not evident in research in humanities and social sciences. As ethnomusicologist Timothy Rice notes, research in the field of what he calls “ethnomusicology in times (and places) of trouble” was scarce before the early 2000s.2 This is explained, among other things, by cultural imagination in which music is necessarily associated with “good” things, and by scientific assumptions that music can only be produced in stable social settings.3 The special issue of Transposition Sound, Music and Violence” contribute to the reconfiguration of these beliefs and to the exploration of the cultural foundations of war and collective violence.

National Transitional Council fighters fire against Moamer Kadhafi’s troops in the town of Sirte on 10 October 2011, as they move in for the kill against the strongman’s remaining diehards.
AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo by Aris Messinis / AFP). Used with permission from the author.

This collection of articles and essays shares a scientific position that is worth recalling: sound and music are not examined as the cause of violent action, but rather as symbolic resources that actors can mobilize in processes or dynamics of violence. The difference is significant and involves the rejection of an ontology of sound and music in which human will is dominated by their supposed powers. Rather, it is a question of understanding how people use music and sound phenomena to give meaning to their reality in contexts of war or to justify acts of destruction and violence. Thus, the texts examine how music can be a device for projecting, framing and preparing for confrontation with the enemy; how the narratives it conveys as well as its sound characteristics can be mobilized by the actors in order to engage in a real or imaginary confrontation. Through an analysis of the links between sound, music and violence, the special issue of Transposition explores the emotional complexity of sound phenomena and shows how listening can become a tool for exploration of, engagement with and sensorial knowledge of the world.

Sound, Music and Violence“, Transposition, Hors-série 2, 2020.
Edited by Luis Velasco-Pufleau.
Articles and Essays by: Victor A. Stoichita, Sarah Kay, Nikita Hock, Jean-Marc Rouillan, Matthew Worley, Timothy Scott Brown, Jeremy Varon, Morag Josephine Grant, Cornelia Nuxoll, Annegret Fauser, Michael Guida, John Morgan O’Connell, Anna Papaeti, Hettie Malcomson, J. Martin Daughtry.


Featured Image: National Transitional Council fighters fire against Moamer Kadhafi’s troops in the town of Sirte on 10 October 2011, as they move in for the kill against the strongman’s remaining diehards. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo by Aris Messinis / AFP). Used with permission from the author.

Cite this article as: Luis Velasco-Pufleau, "Exploring the relationship between sound, music and violence," in Music, Sound and Conflict, 01/05/2020, https://msc.hypotheses.org/3421.

  1. Brad Evans and Natasha Lennard, Violence: Humans in Dark Times, San Francisco, City Lights Books, 2018, p. 3. []
  2. Timothy Rice, “Ethnomusicology in Times of Trouble”, Yearbook for Traditional Music, vol. 46, 2014, pp. 191–209. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5921/yeartradmusi.46.2014.0191 []
  3. Ibid., p. 192. []

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