Reflections on Sonic Environments

Vincent Meelberg and Marcel Cobussen


When you are in The Netherlands on any first Monday of the month, you cannot miss it. At exactly 12 o’clock, midday, the functioning of the Dutch civil defense sirens system, consisting of around 4200 sirens placed all across the country, is tested, and the sirens resonate in unison. Listen to one of those sirens, recorded at Bezuidenhout in The Hague, on 2 November 2009. The sirens upset my Serbian wife as they remind her of the bombings of Belgrade in 1999. Steve Goodman states in Sonic Warfare: “siren obviously signifies alarm, but more interestingly here, its very modulation of frequency produces a state of alertness that can undermine and override cognition.” (Goodman 2010: 66)

Sounds and war are closely connected. In The Soundscape, R. Murray Schafer mentions ‘the peculiar bending of the Latin word bellum (war) into the Low German and Old English bell(e) (meaning “to make a loud noise”). (Schafer 1994: 50) Noise equals power; it induces fear. Don’t underestimate the psychological effects the mere sounds of gunfights, fighter planes, carpet bombing, sirens, and anti-aircraft guns have on humans. The sounds of war are also a war of sounds: from the din of arms in earlier times to the roaring of low-flying helicopters and fighter jets versus the yelling of the crowds in the streets and on the squares of Cairo, Benghazi, Sanaa, and so many other cities in the Middle East during the first months of 2011.

Throughout history, the audiosphere has been subject to militarization. Sounds contribute to an immersive atmosphere of fear and dread, for example in 2005 when the Israeli air force was using high-volume, deep-frequency sonic bombs in the Gaza Strip. (Goodman 2010: xiii) Much less audible but not less effective are the experiments with infrasonic weapons by the US Army which seem to be able to attack the immune system of an organism. See for example the HAARP research project in Alaska. Tests with ELF-waves (Extremely Low Frequencies) appear to reveal that they can affect human brains operating in low frequency zones. This holds out prospects of the production of a neuro-telepathic weapon which could destabilize, from a great distance, complete populations by attacking their cerebral functions. (Sloterdijk 2009: 106) Although still in its infancy and not having left the level of conspiracy theories, researches on sounds, hearing, and the subliminal effect of vibrations thus contribute to future ecological warfare with hypersonic weapons.


                                                                                                                              The Study

                                                        The Shop

            Sirens                                                                                                                                                                  The Gym


                    The Bedroom


                             The Ear and/versus the Eye

                Sound Design    



                                                    Footsteps                                                                                                                                      Rattle and Hum

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