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 –
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
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
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
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.