Statement about use of sonic weapons in Chile

The International Association for the Study of Popular Music IASPM rejects the use of sonic weapons in the social protests in Chile. This statement was prepared by the Latin American and Spanish IASPM branches and the Spanish Society for Ethnomusicology and approved by the Executive Committee in December 19, 2019.

IASPM and their Latin American and Spanish branches, and Sibe, the Spanish Society for Ethnomusicology issue the following statement:

IASPM, IASPM-LA, and IASPM-Spain are professional associations that bring together more than a thousand specialists in the study of music and sound in society.

As professionals, we want to express our deep concern and rejection of the Chilean government’s intention to incorporate acoustic weapons to repress the social protests that have taken place in recent weeks.

Our colleagues from the Chilean Society of Musicology have exposed in detail the dangers to the health and physical integrity of the protesters and of the general population that the use of this arsenal implies (see English version here).

We want to emphasize that sound in all its forms (including music) is a fundamental factor in the construction of people’s subjectivity and the social ties that articulate our society. Its use for repressive purposes has numerous and painful antecedents that we cannot allow to be repeated and normalized.

Executive Board IASPM

IASPM-Latin America

IASPM-Spain

Sibe-Sociedad de Etnomusicología

CHILEAN SOCIETY FOR MUSICOLOGY STATEMENT – English version

The Chilean Society of Musicology, which brings together various music and sound researchers in our country, issues the following statement to give public knowledge about the Carabineros de Chile’s serious mistake of incorporating acoustic weapons into the arsenal of “non-lethal weapons”(1):

1. Within the framework of the social conflict that Chile has experienced in recent weeks, there have been repeated human rights violations by police forces. Their improper use of non-lethal weapons has caused severe physical damage–mainly to the eyes–in many of the demonstrators, as national and international agencies have duly accredited it. In this context, the recent statement by the President of the Republic of Chile, Sebastián Piñera Echenique, about being “at war with a powerful enemy,” appears to be irresponsible. His statement does not provide evidence, does not make clear to whom it is addressed to, and, above all, makes use of warlike rhetoric that does not contribute to the political channeling of the conflict. On the contrary, it justifies the use of force. Even more worrying is that on December 4, 2019, Under Secretary of Interior, Rodrigo Ubilla Mackenney, announced the interest in buying acoustic deterrents as new riot tools.

2. In weapon jargon, the so-called “acoustic weapons” are classified as “non-lethal weapons” NLW, which are used to deter, disperse, intimidate and stop the advance of enemy troops. In the case of acoustic weapons, their role is to blur the boundaries of acceptable modes of use of force, since their action is not immediately visible; that is, they attack an area inside the body. When used in conjunction with movement weapons (such as pellets or high-pressure water), they increase the risk of permanent physiological damage, mutilation, and death.

3. This type of weapon can cause harm through acoustic phenomena (either sound or vibration), as well as through other types of weaponry that include harmful acoustic effects (explosives) and through the use of organized (music) or unorganized sounds (noise, screaming) to repel, torture, and terrorize. This weapons technology is focused on hurting the senses that we humans use to live in the world and to make sense of it (sensory violence). The debate on the use of methods such as blinding and deafening as mechanisms of mass control has severe implications for human health and human rights.

4. In recent weeks, the Carabineros have irresponsibly used non-lethal weapons in a deliberate, disproportionate and unjustified manner, causing severe collateral damage both to the demonstrators and to segments of the population that do not participate in the demonstrations. This background raises serious doubts as to whether the forces of law and order have the necessary training in human rights and the required criteria to use these implements, in a way that guarantees the legitimate right to public assembly and association.

5. We denounce that just like the weapons that have generated the visible mutilation of Chilean citizens, in particular, the loss of sight, acoustic weapons would cause the destruction of hearing of equal or greater magnitude, affecting a group of the population that escapes the range of a conventional weapon.

6. We consider it necessary to establish a distinction between the context of social discontent that prevails in Chile (civil disobedience, peaceful protests, concentrations of demonstrators) and real situations of war, where the military has resorted to the use of acoustic weapons:

6.1. The use of acoustic weapons, in particular, the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) or “extended range acoustic implement,” originally had a military purpose. It was developed after World War II, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was designed for large spaces such as the sea, the desert, and the plains. This implementation helps to promote areas of exclusion around naval and air bases. Depending on the distance at which they are used, this type of weapon can induce damage to the physiology of the combatant’s ear, ranging from ‘pitiful, or pain-causing, sounds to partial, temporary, or permanent and definitive loss of hearing.’

6.2. High-frequency implements emit a sound at a frequency that borders the ultrasonic dimension, which can only be captured by younger humans (teenagers, children, and young people under 20) and whose ears tend to be more sensitive to high-frequency sound compared to adults.
6.3 Reports indicate that similar devices (“sonic blasters”) have been used in contexts of war and occupation (Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel) to produce a series of high-intensity sound bursts (sound waves at high pressure and volume levels) to affect a target. These types of weapons have been used to temporarily or permanently repel and injure masses.
6.4. We know that the use of acoustic weapons in urban contexts can have severe consequences for the aural and sensory health of inhabitants, whether these are human or non-human entities. The ability to reach high frequency and decibel sound waves in densely populated environments can harm large groups of inhabitants who are more physiologically vulnerable (neonates, children, and adolescents) and who are unlikely to participate in the demonstrations. In this sense, these acoustic weapons put entire ecosystems at risk, since the type of sound they emit seriously affects other living beings that share our spaces, such as domestic animals and birds, among others. As for people, the effect would be indiscriminately caused on those who may not participate in violent acts, but circulate or inhabit a particular space.
6.5. In addition to hearing damage, LRAD emissions generate increasing pressure in the air, which has proven capable of stunning nearby bodies, causing damage such as dizziness, disorientation, and loss of consciousness. These symptoms may increase in subjects at risk of physical and psychological abuse, and may even put some vital functions at risk. For this reason, using this type of weaponry has not been duly authorized within war protocols, even less so as an instrument of riot control in the civilian sphere.

7. Various national and international organizations demonstrated that Carabineros have used non-lethal weapons irresponsibly, deliberately, disproportionately and indiscriminately, and without following established protocol. This has harmed people and caused serious collateral damage to demonstrators and segments of the population that have not participated in the

protests. Given this context, it seems to us that the acquisition and use of this type of weaponry, whose purpose in urban and social spaces is highly questioned by science and human rights groups, could easily become instruments of mass torture.

8. There are ethical, legal, and environmental concerns regarding the use of acoustic violence. These include how acceptable or desirable the use of sound as a technique of authority and control is, particularly the use of frequencies below the human hearing range. Also, like some directed energy weapons, acoustic weapons call into question systems where the source of the damage is not fully identified or understood by those who suffer from it.

9. Given the well-documented human health impacts of noise used as a weapon, considerations of acoustic implements also raise concerns about the political measures that should be taken at the international level to protect civilians (and armed forces) from the damage of these weapons that cause hearing loss through the induction of pitiful sounds to the sense of hearing and of smell.

For this reason:
● We denounce the instances of physiological and sensory violence applied against the mobilized population in Chile, highlighting, in this particular case, the proposal to expand this violence through acoustic weapons.
● We oppose the purchase of more and renewed non-lethal weapons of deterrence from masses.
● We condemn the use of strategies, methods, and weapons of war, which through the use of sound, can diminish and render useless any of the senses of the human body (sensory violence), as well as to outrage the sensibilities and subjectivities (torture) of the subjects.
● We report that these types of weapons can be, and have been, used to torture, disorient and damage the bodies and subjectivities of protesters and detainees, as well as a range of people who may not be part of demonstrations, but are in the vicinity.
● We publicly warn that the purchase of these acoustic weapons and their potential use by the Carabineros poses physiological, sensory, and physical risks to the Chilean citizenry.
● We demand the revision of all non-lethal weapons used by Carabineros in conjunction with the institutions for the protection of human rights and a pronouncement that leads promptly to legislation and protocolization of its use.

Chilean Society of Musicology

1 The information used here is based on the “Convention on the Use of Conventional Weapons, 2018” proposed by the organization Article 36. Article 36 is a UK non-profit organization that works to promote scrutiny of the development and use of weapons (www.article36.org) (info@article36.org).

You can read the Chilean Society for Musicology statement here (Spanish version): http://www.schm.cl/