we’re trying to get a non-militaristic conception of sonic warfare. . .’minor sonic warfare’ doesn’t quite capture what it is. . .
here is nice interview taken from William Burroughs’ review (entitled ‘Rock Magic’) of a Led Zeppelin concert for a music magazine. In it, Burroughs discusses infrasound with guitarist Jimmy Page. . .
The Jimmy and Bill Show (excerpt from Crawdaddy 1793)
We talked about the special effects used in the concert. ‘Sure’, he said, ‘lights, lasers, dry ice are fine – but you have to keep some balance. The show must carry itself and not rely too heavily on special effects, however spectacular.’ I brought up the subject of infrasound, that is, sound pitched below 16 hertz, the level of human hearing; as ultrasound is above the level. Professor Gavreau of France developed infrasound as a military weapon. A power infrasound installation can, he claims, kill everyone in a five-mile radius, knock down walls, and break windows. Infrasound kills by setting up vibrations within the body so that, as Gavreau puts it, ‘You can feel all the organs in your body rubbing together.’ The plans for this device can be obtained from the French Patent Office, and infrasound generators constructed from inexpensive materials. Needless to say, one is not concerned with military applications however unlimited, but with more interesting and useful possibilities, reaching much further than five miles.
Infrasound sets up vibrations in the body and nervous system. Need these vibrations necessarily by harmful or unpleasant? All music played at any volume sets up vibrations in the body and nervous system of the listener. That’s why people listen toit. Caruso as you will remember could break a champagne glass across the room. Especially interesting is the possibility of rhythmic pulses of infrasound, that is, music in infrasound. You can’t hear it, but you can feel it.
Jimmy was interested, and I gave him a copy of a newspaper article on infrasound. It seems that the most deadly range is around 7 hertz, and when this is turned on even at a low volume, anyone within range is affected. They feel anxious, ill, depressed, and finally exclaim with one voice ‘I feel terrible!’. . . last thing you want at a rock concert. However, around the borders of infrasound perhaps a safe range can be found. Buddhist mantras act by setting up vibrations in the body. Could this be done in a much more powerful yet safe manner by the use of infrasound rhythms which could of course be combined with audible music? Perhaps infrasound could add a new dimension to rock music. . .
Could musical communication be rendered more precise with infrasound, thus bringing the whole of music a second radical step forward? The first step was made when music came out of the dance halls, roadhouses and nightclubs, in Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium. Rock music appeals to a mass audience, instead of being the province of relatively few aficionados. Can rock music make another step forward, or is it a self-limiting form, confined by the demands of a mass audience? How much that is radically new can a mass audience safely absorb? We came back to the question of balance. How much new material will accepted by a mass audience? Can rock music go forward without leaving its fans behind?
WB: Did you ever hear about something called infrasound?
JP: Uh, carry on.
WB: Well, infrasound is sound below the level of hearing. And it was developed by someone name professor Gavreau in France as a military weapon. He had a infrasound installation that he could turn on and kill everything within five miles. It can also knock down walls and break windows. But it kills by setting up vibrations within the body. Well, what I was wondering was, whether rhythmical music at sort of the borderline of infrasound could be used to produce rhythms in the audience – because, of course, any music with volume will set up these vibrations. The is part of the way the effect is achieved.
WB: It’s apparently. . .it’s not complicated to build these infrasound things.
JP: I’ve heard of this actually, but not in such a detailed explanation. I’ve heard that certain frequencies can make you physically ill.
WB: yes, well, this can be fatal. That’s not what you’re looking for. But it could be used just to set up vibrations. . .
JP: Ah hah. . .A death ray machine! Of course, when radio first came out they were picketing all the radio stations, weren’t they, saying ‘We don’t want these poisonous rays’[laughter]. . .Yes, well. . .certain notes can break glasses. I mean, opera singers can break glasses with sound, this is true?
WB: That was one of Caruso’s tricks.
JP: But it is true?
WB: Of course.
JB: I’ve never seen it done.
WB: I’ve never seen it done, but I know that you can do it.
JP: I want laser notes, that what I’m after! Cut right through.
WB: Apparently you can make one of these things out of parts you can buy in a junkyard. It’s not a complicated machine to make. And actually the patent. . .it’s patented in France and according to French law, you can obtain a copy of the patent. For a very small fee.
JP: Well, you see the thing is, its hard to know just exactly what is going on, from the state to the audience. . .You can only. . .I mean I’ve never seen the group play, obviously. Because I’m part of it. . . I can only see it on celluloid, or hear it. But I know what I see. And the thing about rhythms within the audience, I would say yes, Yes, definitely. And it is. . .Music which involves riffs, anyway, will have a trance life effect, and it’s really like a mantra. . .And we’ve been attacked for that.
WB: What a mantra does is set up certain vibrations within the body, and this, obviously, does the same thing. Of course. . .it comes out too far. But I was wondering if on the borderline of infrasound that possibly some interesting things could be done.