Music as a Torture Mechanism

It’s the most despicable form of remix culture possible: Barney the Dinosaur played on loop




Hate what you hear? You’re not alone.

If you’ve heard the first ten seconds of this song and immediately felt as though your ears and mind have been violated, then I’ve successfully achieved what I wanted. And so too have many regimes throughout history, which have essentially weaponised sound and used it as a means disturb people’s inner beings, eliciting the psychological effect of weakening the mental state of detainees.

See the thing with sound is that we cannot simply shut off our ears. It has the ability to trigger strong emotional responses and if used under the right circumstances, can bring significant distress to people and potentially break a person’s will.

Listen to this: This is the sound of a “Death Whistle”, a small wooden tool used by the Aztecs to produce a disturbing screech, causing significant distress for their opposition during battle. And Barney the Dinosaur’s theme song “I Love You” was the most popular song used to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detention centres in Iraq or Afghanistan – its not too hard to see why.

It brings into question the idea of sound used as propaganda. If it is something we essentially can’t avoid, sound has a great potential to shape the minds of a population and influence our thinking.


Featured Image: “Inner Ear Diagram” by Hey Paul Studios, licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Published by susiealdermann

Fifth Year Bachelor of Communications and Media/ Bachelor of International Studies (Dean's Scholar) student

8 thoughts on “Music as a Torture Mechanism

  1. Hi susie, the podcast was really nice, I enjoyed how it was interactive and you asked rhetorical questions which kept me involved. As someone involved in music sound scares me as a form of torture! I can’t stand listening to the same song more than a few times, especially if it is unpleasant, it honestly scares me hahah. What do you think it is about the Barney theme song that makes it so horrible? Here is a list of other songs that are said to have been used by institutions as a form of torture, if your interested 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the link – I find this topic really interesting. I can’t exactly pin point what makes the Barney song so unbearable but I know from the first ten seconds it starts to get under my skin! I can’t imagine possibly listening to it on repeat!!


  2. Hey Susie,

    You’ve chosen such an interesting topic to focus on from the week 7 lecture, while most, not unlike myself, have choices to focus on remix culture, you’ve thought outside the box and focused on the weaponisation of sound, which i believe goes hand in hand with the concept of the militarisation of sound.
    As you’ve mentioned that sound has the ability to elicit emotions in us, i do believe this is true although not in the way you have sought to explain. You describe the Barney theme song as some sort of violation, but for me this song simply brings back memories of my childhood.
    Nice work with the podcast !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your feedback! Originally when I listened to the Barney theme song I too felt that sense of nostalgia, but it wasn’t until I listened to it over and over while editing that I realised how horrendous it could be!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Susan,
    Your blog post’s topic this week is really interesting and makes your post outstanding between hundreds of other bcm112 blog posts. We often look into remixed music and sounds as a form of entertainment whilst it has many other applications, especially a totally new and little-known application like being a torture. Although music being a torture seems quite frightening, I still consider it as an intelligent invention because it is not easy for people to apply science theories and research to make such a powerful thing. Because you seem very interested in this topic, I suggest you to watch this video – a report from BBC about the “blackout box” – a form of torture of CIA:

    Overall, your blog post is great, intense and creative. It has been by far the only bcm112 blog post for week 7 that I find so interested in that I want to leave a comment below 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and leave your feedback! The video you added is very interesting as well, I found this topic very intriguing as it was something I had never even heard of before!


  4. Hey Susan,

    I too find this topic quite interesting; how our emotional reactions to sounds can change drastically over the course of our lives. For example, I used to love Barney when I was a kid and would happily sing along to that song, however, listening to your podcast made me agree with you as this song is now quite unbearable. Playing the same song to a group of children and to a separate group of adults would have quite adverse outcomes – perhaps opposite to that of vapourware and other aesthetics. You might be interested in SAS: Who Dares Wins Season 2 Episode 5. It’s a recreation of the special forces recruitment process and in this episode they use sound as a means of torture. It’s a good watch!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, and I couldn’t agree more with what you said about the Barney theme song – it’s terrible!! Thank you for your suggestion, I’ll have to check it out!


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