Battery Operated is a collaboration of artists that have been producing sound, video and Internet projects since 2000. Their first project Chases Through Non-Place used music in public places as its source and since then they have researched and developed projects around the social uses of functional sound and video, from ‘Muzak’ to surveillance cameras. The latest Battery Operated project - S.P.I.R.A.W.L. (Sound Proofed Institute Researching Acoustic Weapons Logistics) is a documentary about the sonic landscape and the pioneering use of sound weapons within it. It can be found at – www.batteryoperated.net/spirawl


S.P.I.R.A.W.L. outline

Scientific fact: Everything in the known universe has a resonant frequency. Humans can only hear a small range of these frequencies, from 20 –20,000hz. But there are many frequencies which exist outside our range of hearing that we are exposed to everyday. The audible fields of sound are mapped out, managed and regulated in the same way as any physical territory. The inaudible frequencies, however, represent a free zone. This free zone is now being staked out chaotically with an ethical disregard reminiscent of the way the American West was ‘won’. The S.P.I.R.A.W.L web documentary is located in this sonic landscape and goes in search of the aural boundaries that are being quietly pioneered by military and civilian police forces through the use of sound weapons.

There are sound weapons that operate with the frequencies of infrasound. Infrasound consists of frequencies under 20 Hz that are below the threshold of human hearing. Weapons manipulating these frequencies can cause overwhelming nausea, loosening of the bodily organs and ultimately death. One of these weapons, as it is described in its patent (Subliminal Acoustic Manipulation of Nervous Systems, US Patent 6, 017, 302) “causes disorientation and drowsiness in law enforcement standoff situations.”

Our culture is one that relies heavily on the visual senses to tell us what is right or wrong, what is supported or rejected and what will harm us and what will not. We are taught that our eyes will ultimately deliver answers to these questions, as the saying goes “seeing is believing.”

But what happens when you cannot see what will harm you, when you cannot tell what is right or wrong, when you cannot perceive whether civic or humanitarian ideals are being upheld or muted? The recent proliferation of non-lethal weapons, which utilize frequencies outside the human range of hearing to control, maim and ultimately kill enemies and political agitators, bring these questions to bear.

Sound weapons are classified as ‘non-lethal’ and are increasingly being deployed as part of the US and UK Military’s arsenal under the moniker of ‘spreading democracy’. Devices such as ‘The Long Range Acoustic Device’ (LRAD) are capable of blasting an ear splitting 150 decibels. They were used in Desert Storm in 1991 and are still being used by US troops in Fallujah, Iraq. The developer of the LRAD, American Technology Corp. of San Diego, recently received a $1.1 million contract from the U.S. Marine Corps to supply the devices deployed to Iraq.

These sound weapons are tested in times of war and are then bought back home to be used on socially and politically motivated demonstrators. During the protests at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, police were armed with the LRAD. Carl Gruenler, vice president of military and government operations for American Technology Corp concedes that the device is powerful enough to cause permanent auditory damage. There are dozens of other non-lethal weapons that have been tested in times of war and subsequently used on civilian populations in times of ‘peace’ with names such as – ‘The Curdler’ used by the British Army in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s, The Vortex Ring Generator and The Ultrasound Pain Generator, to name but a few. These are real devices with patents that can be located easily online and have already been used.

In 1999, Maxwell Technologies of San Diego patented the lethal ‘Hypersonic Sound System’ weapon. The highly directional device uses ultrasound and is designed to control hostile crowds or disable hostage takers. The company says it can cause eardrum rupture at 185 decibels (dB), pulmonary (lung) injury at 200dB and death at 220dB.

The reason that weapons development companies, militaries and police forces around the world have decided to inhabit and pioneer the territories of the sonic landscape is brazenly voiced in the March, 2000 Overview Brief by the U.S Department of Defense Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program. One of their three focuses for the development of these types of weapons is the ‘Media Factor’. This is extrapolated in no ambiguous way; that non-lethal sonic weapons are media friendly because they do not leave marks for the television viewer to witness. The majority of citizens experience war, protest and sanctioned violence through television reports and documentaries. It should come as no surprise that non-lethal weapons have been developed with their media representation in mind. Governments and military leaders around the world understand this only too well and have learnt how to play the media game that Marshall McLuhan spoke about in the 1960s. In fact they have not so much learnt how to play, but have gone further and changed the location, from one thats visable to one that’s not.

With conventional weapons of war and civilian control we can see the democratic lifeblood of the social body bleeding away when the riot police hit protestors with batons or shoot them. We psychologically feel for defenceless people when their blood is spilt or if they are choking for air due to pepper spray. Sonic weapons are clean weapons; they do not cause blood or bruising. The U.S., Canada, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Israel, Sweden, Japan, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Denmark have acoustic weapons programs. Their initiation into the public sphere has been camouflaged. Indeed, who would consider an amplifier or a speaker system a hostile weapon? What defence or protection is there against such a device?
S.P.I.R.A.W.L. charts the history and development of the use of sound as a weapon and simply asks you to listen and hear for yourselves what is goin on.