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Music as Torture

Posted on May 31, 2012 by Dana

There’s this documentary called Songs of War, which follows Sesame Street composer Christopher Cerf as he discovers that his music (from SESAME STREET) had been used to torture prisoners at Guantanamo, and tries to understand how and why music is used in this way.

I was just wondering this myself.

The other night, I was flipping around the selections Netflix has suggested I would like. Considering much of my instant queue is music documentaries, it’s not surprising that they would suggest a lot of music titles. One of these was a live concert featuring Deadmau5.

So I’m sure you know, but in case you’re like me and didn’t know this until a month ago, Deadmau5 is the DJ who plays live wearing a giant mouse head that lights up. OK. Now I don’t know very much about EDM, but I put it on anyway because I’m always on the lookout for my new favorite music thing, and I never want to feel as though I’m missing out on something.

Oh. I’m not.

So yeah, basically, this guy wears a big mouse head, and he plays repetitive house music. And there are a lot of laser lights. It looked to me like a 1982 filmmaker’s imagining of what music would become in the future–except music actually became that. I can see that Deadmau5 is very good at what he does, I just don’t care for the thing that he does. And so I thought, if anyone ever wanted to torture me, this would be how to do it.

But that’s just me.

Clearly that’s just me, because Deadmau5 was playing to a packed house all of whom seemed to be having ball and a biscuit. So that’s my question. What determines which songs or whose music is most “torturous”? Is there actual criteria, having to do with repetition, meter, key, the pairing of certain instruments or the timbre of a particular voice? Or is it that the guards all get together and decide which music to use based on their personal taste (read: songs they think are for pussies)?

Guess I’ll just have to see this movie.

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