The Sound of Fear: Room40 boss Lawrence English on the history of noise as a weapon
Experimental musician Lawrence English gives us a history lesson on how music can be manipulated as a weapon in this feature for Fact MagThis article originally appeared on Fact Mag
Common sayings like “seeing is believing” give our eyes the central role in our engagement with the world. But there is little doubt that listening plays a critical part in how we navigate and understand our environment.
Historically, our ears, not eyes, revealed what lay beyond the light of the campfire. And importantly, our ears helped us recognise what lay behind us, out of sight. Sound has the profound ability to haunt, shock and terrify. It has a primordial quality that reaches deep inside us.
Recently, in preparation for Riverfire, an annual fireworks display in Brisbane, a pair of FA-18 Super Hornets throttled directly over my house. My two-year-old son was in the yard and, as I stepped outside to look at the planes, I saw him hurtling up our driveway, tears streaming down his cheeks. He couldn’t see the planes as they had passed overhead before their sound hit us. But their unnatural volume and the coarse noise of their engines triggered a palpable and overpowering sense of unease and distress.
Sounds heard without a visible source are known as acousmatic. To cope with them, we have created various narratives and myths. In Japanese mythology, the Yanari – a word that references the sound of a house shaking in an earthquake – is said to be a spirit responsible for the groaning and creaking of a house at night. In Norse mythology, thunder was ascribed to the god Thor.