The use of music as a form of psychological torture has long been a staple of the United States government and your sketchy club-hopping upstairs neighbors. The media took note of this a few years back, when lists of the songs used by the military in prisons throughout Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay were circulated around as an amusing news item. Who among us wouldn't fold instantly at the prospect of a few spins through the oeuvre of Barry Manilow and Barney the Dinosaur we all chuckled.
But unlike fictionalized dinosaurs like Manilow and Barney, physically incapable of objecting (or love), some musicians took umbrage at having their music conscripted into the official Now That's What I Call War on Terror Volume 15 playlist, most notable among them Metallica. In a move that is mostly surprising only because the infamously royalty-hungry metal titans didn't think of it first, Canadian industrial metal veterans Skinny Puppy have taken their objections to the next level and issued an invoice to the U.S. Government, "according" to "reports."
In an interview with the Phoenix New Times earlier this week, band founder cEvin Key, who I'm sending an invoice to right now for torturing our grammatical sensibilities with that spelling, "says" they "billed" the government for unauthorized use of their music. The band "heard through a reliable grapevine that our music was being used in Guantanamo Bay prison camps to musically stun or torture people," Key explained. "We heard that our music was used in at least four occasions. We thought it would be a good idea to make an invoice to the U.S. government for musical services..."
That would be a totally good idea! And that's where most people stopped reading.
"Industrial band Skinny Puppy invoice US government for using their music at Guantanamo Bay," reads the NME headline. "Metal band Skinny Puppy send US government invoice after finding out their music was 'used as torture device in Guantanamo Bay'" trumpeted the Independent, whose piece is being widely circulated today. "Industrial group Skinny Puppy 'invoices' government for using songs at Guantanamo," wrote Raw Story, who at least had the decency to use square quotes. Death and Taxes chimed in as well, as did UPROXX.
Strangely, everyone covering this story left out the next part of the interview.
What became of that invoice? Did they respond to it?
We never sent it. The album cover is the invoice. The original impetus of recording the album was those two concepts: the torture and the invoice.
Hard to blame them, considering even the original source of the item selectively edited their own q+a, omitting the admission that it never happened.
Still though, haha, that would've been a great story. Let's go with it anyway, right?
As The Guardian reported a couple years back, the use of music as a form of military intimidation is as old as both the concepts of music and warfare themselves. A study from New York University in 2008 took a deeper look into the mechanisms behind how music works as a form of torture:
First, it is not at all clear that the music aimed at prisoners in detention camps has functioned as music. Rather, it has more often functioned as sheer sound with which to assault a prisoner's sense of hearing; to 'mask' or disrupt a prisoner's capacity to sustain an independent thought; to disrupt a prisoner's sense of temporality (both in terms of how much time had passed and in terms of the predictability of temporal units); to undermine a prisoner's ability to sustain somatic practices of prayer (both through behavior at the hours of prayer and through abstinence from musical experiences considered sinful); and to bombard the prisoner's body (skin, nerves and bones) with acoustical energy.
Key's thoughts on the use of his music as an instrument of torture are interesting nonetheless, without the ginned-up click-bait angle.
Given that so much of your music is protest oriented, how did that make you feel to learn that your music was being used to torture prisoners?
Not too good. We never supported those types of scenarios. It's kind of typical that we thought this would end up happening, in a weird way. Because, we make unsettling music we can see it being used in a weird way. But it doesn't sit right with us.
This story doesn't sit right with me either. In the oncoming War On Reading Comprehension, selective link-baiting like this will be used as form of torture. Consider all the headlines about this you're about to see shared into your feed the closest analogy to the "sheer sound with which to assault" your senses, "to 'mask' or disrupt" your "capacity to sustain an independent thought."
[Image via Skinny Puppy on Facebook]
Luke O'Neil is a freelance writer in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.