Sound is weaponized. During World War II, fighter jets flew low to simulate the dropping of bombs, keeping citizens on edge. In Guantanamo Bay, metal music was blasted at intolerable levels in the belief that, over time, the sonic barrage would psychologically break the interned. And now, “non-lethal” weapons that rely purely on hyperdirectional sound are commonplace. Postcommodity, a collective of artists all born in the 1970s and based in the southwestern United States, recognize that while sound has the potential to harm, it also has the potential to heal.
Consider, for example, their The Ears Between Worlds Are Always Speaking (2017), an installation that uses Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) speakers against their intended purpose. Originally designed for the military, police, and navy, the speakers are increasingly used as sound cannons to disperse crowds at protests with deterrent tones. But LRADs are also the clearest, long distance transmitter of the human voice, relaying messages up to 2,000 meters. Postcommodity observes the contradiction inherent in using loudspeaker communications technology to silence voices of dissent. They make use of this technology to bring people together by broadcasting stories and songs of necessary movement, forced displacement, and transformational journeys, told in many languages by many speakers, during a time of the greatest mass migration in history.
For Postcommodity, journeys also have a pedagogical dimension. In Athens, the installation broadcasts within the Lyceum, the ruins of an ancient school known for the development of peripatetic learning, the term derived from how Aristotle chose to walk its gardens with students while teaching. The Peripatetic School made early developments in philosophy, the humanities, and science, including the study of mechanics, fundamental for understanding statics and dynamics, and thus motion. In Postcommodity’s installation, motion takes on another pedagogical dimension, asking what we can learn by listening to narratives of self-determination.
Sound’s healing and transformative dimensions are given further emphasis in Blind/Curtain (2017). Pink noise—effective at masking other sounds by filtering out high frequencies—is transmitted at the entrance and exit to the museum as a way to open ears. As Postcommodity state, the installation “has enough of a presence to acknowledge that there is a difference between the outside world and inside the institution… . Institutions represent a worldview that doesn’t belong to everyone.” Can sound, then, alter the perspective of an audience so that these differences are amplified instead of silenced? Can what you hear change what you see?