Thursday, November 19, 2009

Something Is Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What It Is

Eavesdropping, censorship, recording, and surveillance are weapons of power…Recorded noise and eavesdropping – these are the dreams of political scientists and the fantasies of men in power: to listen, to memorize – this is the ability to interpret and control history, to manipulate the culture of a people, to channel its violence and hopes.
Attali, Noise, pp. 7

Since the earliest philosophical writings tell us, music before the Common Era, and probably even longer, has served as a substance of control. NYU, Media and Communications Professor, Aram Sinnreich analyses it from the origins since Plato’s days until more recent configurable movements. He describes that since the beginning of recorded history, music has constituted modalities of control. The Athens certainly were aware of this 2,300 years ago (when Plato’s Republic was written; 360 BC). He states that, “The Republic suggests that music should be regulated legally, codified through political mandates and policed by the states” (Ch. 1, pp. 4). Sinnreich examines Part III of the Republic. While Socrates is philosophizing with another Athens citizen, they agree that only two harmonic modes are of importance to the State. One is the Dorian, which during wartime is valuable because it builds courage to its listeners. The other one is Phrygian, since it inspires peacetime and encourages obedience. Other rhythms, such as Ionian and Lydian, Socrates suggests, should be vanished from the state as they promote drunkenness, softness, and indolence – these rhythms are too ‘relaxed’ and therefore they are no use to the state. Schafer expands on this point by stating that “A society too drunk with music is incapable of other operational achievements, and the ruler who wishes to stay in power knows how to stimulate music and when to withhold it” (30). Shafer continues, “Music is probably more informative. I refer, of course, to pop music, which is really the only kind permitted in the free world. (Any other kind of music might be, and on occasion has been, considered conspiratorial.)” (29). Sinnreich points out that while Socrates’ concern of music being a modality of control, he only focused on the aesthetic perspective: the rhythm, harmony and timbral (ibid). Although music can serve as a powerful tool for control and regulation, nonetheless, acoustic environments such as caves became inevitably controlling to humans for listening to sounds since ancient times, as well as eavesdropping, and latter other methods of state surveillance.

Dionysius of Syracuse (430-367 BC) the brutal and tyrant leader, rose to power because of war achievements, and famous for his technique on listening. It is speculated, as Schafer’s section “The Ear of Dionysius” describes, that the Tyrant designed prisons in concealed points of observation and with acoustic means to not only monitor prisoners’ actions but listen to their conversations and whispers (28). While the cave, the Ear of Dionysius, actually exists today, it has become a metaphor for all sources of acoustic surveillance conducted by the government as the panopticon and the internet today. Schafer declares, “The ears of the state have never been more curious and open. Everyone has a voiceprint and somewhere everyone’s voice print is on file” (29). Sinnreich distinguishes, “In the case of music, there are at least two other methods of regulation that often come into play: ideological regulation, in which one set of ideas about music is given primacy over another; and commercial regulation in which companies such as broadcasters or record labels serve as “gateways” between musical producers and consumers” (ibid). As technology advanced, techniques of surveillance became inevitably apparent. Shafer continues, “Not all of this listening is carried on in secret. This is no longer necessary once mechanisms are created for society to express itself openly on every possible issue” (29). Sinnreich states, “[A] strategy for coping with institutionalized surveillance…is to participate in the surveillance processes (both as surveillant and object of surveillance)” (Ch. 11, pp. 12). Radio shows and opinion polls then became a more modern way to monitor people when conducting surveys questions for marketing. When media, such as television and radio shows, became popularized, the masses were more willing to participate and share their lives in order to receive exposure.

Even more recent, the internet is looked upon as the new panopticon, or the ultimate form of surveillance while having society’s consent. With new media and the new social networks revolution, we volunteer to have our information on such websites as well as post recordings, pictures, and videos of ourselves. Schafer confesses, “The failure of the twentieth century really comes down to a fascination with buttons and switches in an attempt to modulate information intake. As the twentieth century progressed there were fewer ‘off’ switches; media-massaged society remained in a perpetual state of ‘red alert’” (38). Because newer forms of technology are created and are heavily advertised in today’s society, it is a social ‘unwritten’ rule to own a cell phone in order to keep up with modern culture. Consequently, Schafer notes, “The cellular phone…is the latest installment in this drama. Answer when you’re master calls. Life without secrets, without privacy without freedom. The latest shackle for the technological prisoner to carry about” (38). Besides being on call all the time by the master, what is more uncomfortable and disturbing is that those in authority can ‘turn the switch on’ and listen to anyone’s conversations if they feel like it. Though most of us are aware of this, it has become to a certain degree acceptable, and technology and music have become commodified.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I Read the News Today Oh Boy

¿Ya oíste las noticias? ¿Quién, yo?
Hoy vi en la tele que el país no está tan mal
Con Jorge Campos ganaremos el mundial,
Yo no se a quien creen que engañan,
La calle no está en la pantalla
Mienten mucho, no les creo nada
Mienten mucho, no les creo nada

Hoy vi en la tele que el peso no se iba a devaluar
Dice la radio: "El desempleo va a terminar"
Y en la ciudad a donde mires encontrarás
Gente en la calle buscando como ganarse el pan
Mienten mucho, no les creo nada
Mienten mucho, no les creo nada

¿Que es lo que dicen?
Dicen las noticias:
Que no ha habido matanzas
Son suicidios por la espalda
Que no hay levantamiento
Es una guerra de internet
Mienten mucho, no les creo nada
Mienten mucho, no les creo nada

Hoy vi en la tele que la tira iba a aumentar
Y que el ejército tiene nuevo arsenal
Muchas redadas y retenes
La paz de los sepulcros quieren
Mienten mucho, no les creo nada
Mienten mucho, no les creo nada
Maldita Vecindad, "No Les Creo Nada" (1996)

(English Translation)
Did you hear the news? Who, me?
Today I saw on TV that the country is not doing too bad
“With Jorge Campos we’ll win the World cup”
I don’t know who they are fooling/
The street is not on the screen
They lie too much, I don’t believe them at all

Today I saw on TV that the peso was not going to devaluate/
The radio says: “Unemployment will end”
And in the city wherever you look you find
People on the streets finding ways to make ends meet
They lie too much, I don’t believe them at all

What do they say? The news says:
That there have been no slaughters/
They are suicides from the back
That there is no uprising/
It is an Internet war
They lie too much, I don’t believe them at all.

Today I saw on TV that police numbers are going to increase
And that the army has a new arsenal
Many raids and check-points/
The peace of tombs is what they want
They lie too much, I don’t believe them at all.

In 1996, the album Baile de Máscaras came out in a changing political climate where, Mexico’s ruling political party, Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), and leftist guerrilla insurgency, Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) were shaking up Mexico’s political and social order. The people of Mexico no longer had full faith and reliance on the government and its media outlets. Furthermore, an increasing number of musicians challenged authorities as government corruption, injustices and oppressions became endemic – the song mentioned above. “No les creo nada” argues that media covers up massacres, manipulates the public with lies, and brings false hopes to Mexican citizens. In Mexican politics, the PRI ruled for 72 years, until its collapse in 2000, and own Televisa, the conglomerate and monopolistic official outlet of communication. During the 1990s, the rise of the internet was becoming a power medium for communication and Maldita Vecindad declares there is “an internet war.” This is so since politics, technology, and media were tightly intertwined, there was mainly a “one-way” communication of those in control to the citizens, causing an oppressive and unjust ruling resulting to war. While the lyrics of Maldita Vecindad call out the authorities and mainstream media, the song actually broadcasts official government news dubbed in the background, showing how the news contradicts itself with real life situations.

[Maldita's fifth album, Mostros, portraying those who own the media, or TV, are power driven deceiving monsters]
As several writers have theorized about music’s several characteristics, Murray Schafer, in his article “Open Ears,” quotes De Bary et al. (1960), which says, “The music of a well-ruled state is peaceful and joyous and its government is orderly; that of a country in confusion is full of resentment and anger and its government is disordered; and that of a dying country is mournful and pensive and its people are in distress” (2003: 29). So why pay attention music? Or for that matter, sounds and noise? Through the song example, the listener is able to comprehend that the social and political order of Mexico was disorderly, as the song expresses anger and resentment. Throughout the years, the role of technology and media has not only documented and preserved songs as narrations and reflections of societies, though new possibilities came about with such roles, and therefore shaped our listening strategies. So how has the role of technology and media shaped our listening strategies? We'll explore these in upcoming blogs...