Plants used to thrive with Mozart, and wither to the sounds of rock music. But plants changed. Here is an actual report from a fifth-grader from the Mini-Science web site: “I did the project entitled “Do Plants Grow Better to Music”, and I got different results! I did Rap, Pop, Rock, and No Music. My Results were Pop1st, Rock 2nd, None 3rd, and Rap was last!” Mythbusters: “Seven small greenhouses were set up on the M5 Industries roof. Four were set up with stereos playing endlessly looping recordings (as having the MythBusters actually talk to the plants could contaminate the samples with their expelled carbon dioxide): Two of negative speech, two of positive speech (Kari and Scottie each made one positive and one negative inducing soundtrack), a fifth with classical music and a sixth with intense death metal music. A seventh greenhouse, used as a control sample, had no stereo. The greenhouses with the recordings of speech grew better than the control, regardless of whether such talk was kind or angry. The plants in the greenhouse with the recording of classical music grew better, while the plants in the greenhouse with the recording of intense death metal grew best of all.” Inconclusive evidence here, but the effect of music on human beings is no less unpredictable.

Music has the power to affect the human psyche. Most people consider music as a pleasant experience, if not more than that. We also know that music can heal, from shaman ritual to music therapy. But we tend to forget that it may also, in certain circumstances, inflict pain… Historically music has been used in warfare to frighten and disorient opponents with loud instruments and battle cries. The legend of the siege of Jericho points out that the fortress held up for six days in silence, but on the seventh day the horns and shouts took it down.

According to new research by musicologist Suzanne Cusick of New York University’s Faculty of Arts and Science, modern warfare has integrated certain forms of music as a part of its intimidation and torture arsenal, along with other psychological weapons. Prisoners report being forced to hear blasting loud rock or rap music for 15 hours a day, with the same songs, repeated over and over, day after day, which would drive them to the brink of madness.

The link below will take you to Suzanne Cusick’s article.

 The curious twist here is that the same forms of music that started as revolutionary (rock, metal, rap), work just as well when used as means of repression. Aerosmith, for instance is not only coopted by the military, but used as a part of a torture arsenal. This brings back to memory a tune named “Blitzkrieg Bop”, from the Ramones’ first album. I don’t know whether it is on the torture list, but it may have been used in a TV commercial. The military hasn’t, as far as we know, touched classical music, but it’s only a matter of time until someone finds a way to manipulate the repertoire into a psychological weapon.  Collective unconscious overloaded with negativity? Do we need to write more uplifting material, or does it even matter? They could always play the tapes backwards…It seems that what’s even more important is the context in which the music is played.

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