Sonic Politics: Sonority, Territoriality, and Violence in Urban Cultural Practices in Brazil
Pedro Silva Marra and Thaise Valentim Madeira
The last decade has seen the field of sound studies turn its attention to the relations of sound and violence, mostly inspired by the use of sonic vibrations and music as weapons or devices for territorial control in war against terrorism in the Middle East. These researches aim to make explicit the violent use of music in war contexts (Cusick 2006) and the sounds, listening modes, and technologies accessed in war situations, as well as the audible regimes, sonic campaigns, and acoustic territories established then (Daughtry 2015). Yet, it also inquires into the ways through which sound aggressively regulates everyday life, whether through dance or ambient music that clings to the ear or portable digital sound reproduction devices always attached to bodies, among other sonorous expressions of the capitalist world that constitute a politics of frequency (Goodman 2010). This body of work shares a common premise, namely that the sonic character of violence, however aggressive or conflicting those acts are, is attached to sound’s sensible dimension charged with audible energy.
The Social Sciences and Humanities customarily understand violence as a negative feature of society, as uneven forms of distribution of power relations, or as moments when social bonds fail. That being said, in this article, we intend to highlight another dimension in which violence is presented, attempting to grasp it as something always present in human activity, not only in contexts of crisis (Araújo 2006). Violence is ubiquitously present as a political project – described by Achille Mbembe (2018) as necropolitics – that articulates social relations in contemporary societies on a structural as well as local level. This is true especially in precarious societies or relations, that is, those in which social and economic support networks are deteriorated or unevenly distributed (Butler 2018), as is the case in many areas of Latin America.
In his study on audiences’ fascination for sports, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (2010) argues that a specific kind of violence is central to the athlete’s experience and fans’ spectatoriality. According to Gumbrecht, rugby and American football have incorporated into their rules and game dynamics certain moves that involve the bodies clashing against one another, e.g. when players block each other. When a move such as this is successful, fans experience intense satisfaction as they perceive a form – the very moment it fades away – that is both predicted by the game and expected by the audience. On these occasions, according to Gumbrecht, one would be facing an aesthetic experience in a sports context, even if the event that catalyzes such an epiphany is highly violent. In relation to this, he proposes a definition of violence that,
instead of claiming that violence is a ubiquitous, mostly unwelcome but often purely spiritual phenomenon (as for example Michael Foucault’s use of the concept suggests), will highlight the supposed ‘scandal of physical aggressiveness’ without confirming, on the other hand, the frequent association between violence and criminal behavior (in other words: my definition implies that, under certain conditions, violence can be perfectly legitimate and even useful). I propose to call ‘violence’ all acts and all forms of behavior that occupy or block spaces through bodies, against the resistance of other bodies. (Gumbrecht 2010: 69)
In a forthcoming book chapter, Pedro Marra further develops the relationship between sound and violence in football. Here, we build upon Gumbrecht’s definition of violence, as quoted above. Examined within a broader context, it may reveal how conflict and disputes are – as much as acts of exchanging and bonding – engines of society.