[Images: Via Borderland Sciences].
“The Sonic Doom of Vladimir Gavreau” by Gerry Vassilatos is a great example of speculative nonfiction—or, more specifically, of music history as conspiracy theory, where acoustic engineering gradually morphs into something closer to pseudo-science and occult mythology.
It goes all over the place, from the work of Oliver Messiaen to the physical threat of infrasound, and from the alleged Cold War weaponization of acoustics to the malignant “resonant profiles” of the buildings we work within today.
The anecdotes alone—whether or not you take them at their word—are amazing: “Walt Disney and his artists were once made seriously ill when a sound effect, intended for a short cartoon scene, was slowed down several times on a tape machine and amplified through a theater sound system. The original sound source was a soldering iron, whose buzzing 60 cycle tone was lowered five times to 12 cycles. This tone produced a lingering nausea in the crew which lasted for days.”
For anyone who’s read about the controversial “sonic attack” on U.S. ambassadorial staff in Cuba, or for fans of the book How to Wreck a Nice Beach, it’s probably a must-read.
While you’re there, if you’ve got time to kill, check out Vassilatos’s essay on “nocturnal auditory disturbances,” otherwise known as mysterious humming sounds with no discernible origin.
(Spotted via @robertcurgenven.)