@ Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design

MFA Submission 2017




The conceptual imperative behind Bertolt Brecht's Epic Theatre was the intention to prompt his audience to political action.

Brecht believed by distancing his audience from seductive effects of narrative, it would encourage them to intellectually engage with the dilemmas presented. In theory, this would then empower the audience to critically analyze and re-evaluate their own Weltanschuaang (worldview).

Ultimately, Brecht failed. Epic Theatre’s theatrical modes were co-opted into television and film, absorbed by the seductive narratives he protested against.

Perhaps this failure was inescapable. Brecht’s critique of the prevailing system was and always had been a part of the system itself.

This is echoed within the fundamental issues at the core of the Occupy movement – the protesters themselves were children of Capitalism. They themselves had comfortably reaped the benefits provided by the system, yet maintained a stance of criticality when it suited. The photographs and videos shot of the protest from iPhones, perfectly illustrated this fallacy.

The following pieces were written as a part of the catalogue that accompanied my MFA submission

Weaponized Sound

The Waco Siege was a siege conducted by the Americal Federal and Texas State Law enforcement and the US Military against a compound belonging to the Branch Davidians. The Branch Davidians was led by David Koresh and was a sect that had separated from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in 1955.

The arrest warrant was obtained after the Branch Davidians were suspected of weapons violations. When the ATF attempted to raid the ranch on February 28, an intense gun battle erupted, resulting in the deaths of four government agents and six Branch Davidians.

The FBI intervened and initiated a siege after the violent escalation. The standoff lasted 51 days.
The FBI-led assault was conducted on April 14. During the siege a fire broke out that engulfed the compound; 76 people were killed, including David Koresh.

During the 51 days of the Waco Siege, two factions within the FBI formed. One favored peaceful negotiation, the other, force. The latter began to implement increasingly aggressive tactics in an effort to wear down and drive out the Branch Davidians. Loud sounds such as Buddhist monk’s prayers, animal calls and screeching static were played through large speakers directed at the compound. Alongside these more abstract forms of sound, various Pop songs from the 60s were played on repeat, by means of all-night broadcasts in an effort to cause sleep-deprivation.

Jack Zimmerman, attorney for David Koresh disputed the effectiveness of these techniques;
the point was this – they were trying to have sleep disturbance and they were trying to take someone that they viewed as unstable to start with, and they were trying to drive him crazy. And then they got mad ‘cos he does something that they think is irrational!

Here, Zimmerman raises an important point in regards to use of sound warfare. As it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of such application, one must be skeptical of its application in conflict settings, as well as the more pervasive domestic applications.
The Waco Siege is not an isolated case of the application of weaponized sound. ‘The Real Slim Shady’ by rapper Eminem, was played continually for 20 days to torture detainees by the CIA in the War of Terror.

Released Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Ruhal Ahmed described the differences between the physical to audio-based torture he endured;

I can bear being beaten up, it’s not a problem. Once you accept that you’re going to go into the interrogation room and be beaten up, it’s fine. You can prepare yourself mentally. But when you’re being psychologically tortured, you can’t.” ... “from the end of 2003 they introduced the music and it became even worse. Before that, you could try and focus on something else. It makes you feel like you are going mad. You lose the plot and it’s very scary to think that you might go crazy because of all the music, because of the loud noise, and because after a while you don’t hear the lyrics at all, all you hear is heavy banging.

The use of weaponized sound has also been applied in external conflicts US lead conflicts such as Iraq and Afganistan to interrogate prisoners of war and to aggravate combatants in a similar fashion to the FBI’s tactics in the Waco Siege.
According to colloquial accounts, Humanity is the Devil, an album by metal/hardcore band, Integrity, was used as a form of sound warfare in Afghanistan. The album could be characterized by its distorted tone, crushing guitar riffs and aggressive vocals that seem indiscernible as they crash and snarl throughout the tracks.

By directing large speakers at the caves the Taliban were suspected to be hiding in, the unit aimed to deprive the enemy combatants of sleep. As the audio reverberations within an enclosed space would be inescapable, this would in turn reduce their effectiveness in combat.

Whilst the immediate audio effect would have been effective in causing distress, there is also a cultural angle to this form of attack. As the album holds many anti-religious sentiments, it becomes an effective aggressive tactic against religious aligned individuals. This factor was also considered during CIA interrogations, where songs that held anti-religious messages were applied in a similar way to Eminem’s ‘Real Slim Shady’.

The application of weaponized audio is not only confined to combat zones. They are also present within domestic and commercial settings.

To deter young people from loitering outside of storefronts, some business owners install speakers outside that utilize a form of weaponized sound.

The Mosquito Sound is one technique that utilizes a high-decibel tone that is only audible to youths. Described as a high-pitched, continual beep it is both uncomfortable and intolerable even over short periods of time. As the audible range of humans decreases as they age, the Mosquito Sound is able effectively discriminate against specific age groups.

Another technique is the use of Muzak, which characterized as a form of upbeat elevator music. This technique operates in a culturally specific manner as it targets a specific group by their perceived musical tastes.

It is clear how previous application of weaponized sound has influenced its use within commercial and domestic settings. The manner it is able to negotiate space without actually having to occupy it physically, presents a clear strategic methodology in controlling and influencing the occupants of space.

The application of weaponized sound to a commercial signals the progressive shift to discriminatory spaces. As audio occupies space, it is not dissimilar to the way physical installations do within architecture. It assists in fostering a passive aggressive stance to certain groups within society.


Counter Terrorism architecture is an architectural philosophy that utilizes a militarized approach in an attempt to curb violent crime. However, terrorism is a difficult mode of violence to defend against. The post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’ saw millions of taxpayer dollars spent under the auspices of creating a safer world – the multiple bombings and mass shootings that have occurred under this watch illustrates its ineffectiveness.

The attempt to imbue architecture with these defensive intentions hold results that are incredibly difficult to gauge; though statistically one could count the number of successful attacks against the prevented, this still does not provide an accurate rate of success. How can one determine whether an architectural installation prevented terrorism without direct evidence?

As architecture is a permanent installation, it affects the manner in which the public engages with the space. In turn this offers up citizens right to free speech, association and thought in exchange for a projection of security. By preparing both society and architecture with this form of defense against potential attack, it effectively fosters a constant state of anxiety from an unconfirmed enemy – an invisible and omnipresent boogeyman.

Within both public and private spaces, these defensive philosophies have become progressively unilateral. Whether defending against minor or major crimes, the mode has become focused upon subtle intervention, as opposed to the explicit.

The Ring of Steel is a popular nickname for the security cordon that surrounds the City of London. Henrietta Williams speaks of the rise of Fortress Urbanism in her essay that accompanied her project, Ring of Steel.

“This approach to urban planning, often referred to as fortress urbanism, draws on defence initiatives from conflict zones and applies them within civilian locations. The ‘Ring of Steel’ was first created in 1993 to protect the City of London from the threat of terrorism after the IRA had identified the capitalist financial centre as a perfect target for their bombing campaign.”

Alongside mass surveillance, the city began architecturally implementing counter terrorism measures in an effort to prevent further attacks. CT architecture utilizes seemingly everyday installations to entrench authority. As the idea of CT architecture gained traction, it became a more prominent aspect that architects and urban planners considered during the design process.

Defensive measures against vehicle threats are a key feature of CT architecture. As insurgent groups often weaponize everyday items and the attackers survival is not an intended outcome, filling a car up with propane tanks and driving it into an embassy is an efficient, cost effective method.

However, by creating these physical barriers, do they in turn encourage terrorists to conduct more direct, public attacks on citizens? The murder of Lee Rigby is an example of urban, un-defendable terrorism. Two religious extremists ran down Rigby and then attempted to behead him in the streets of London in broad daylight. There were no architectural means in which this could have been prevented – the perpetrators set out to create a public spectacle and both were independent from any wider terrorist cell.

Privately Owned, Public Spaces (POPS)

A domestic application of CT architecture philosophies is illustrated through Privately owned, Public Spaces – or POPS.

As Anna Minton points out in her book Ground Control, the owners of POPS control security, access and rules of entry. Actions they deem unsavory, such as photography, picnics, loitering, protest and congregating in groups of more than three are banned.

The observations of Minton clearly present the administrators focus upon controlling its inhabitants, as well as determining who those occupants are.

This in turn causes a loss of spontaneity, as the chaos of a true public space is homogenized. By catering to a financially able demographic, POPS become predictable and incredibly evident of their profit driven ideologies. The focus is clearly upon monetizing space, not democratizing it.

To entrench this homogenized state, POPS utilize objects that are intended to discriminate against a specific demographic. The placement of spikes where homeless sleep; benches that have small metal attachments that prevent skaters from grinding, and speakers, either playing Muzak or a high frequency sound intended to deter young people from loitering, are all a form of Unpleasant Design.

This is a major concern in regards to proliferation of POPS; the idea is an inherently undemocratic consideration of space. By surrendering an individual’s rights of agency, society begins to subscribe to a process of self-policing. If the focus of society is to totalize space, it must be aesthetically pleasing and historically hygienic in order to be monetized. It puts our relationship to space in the power of profit-driven, corporate entities.

The occupation of Paternoster Square by the Occupy London group was a moment where the bluff of POPS was called.
The Occupy protest targeted this site as the square houses the London Stock exchange, as well as financial giants Merril Lynch, Goldman Sachhs and Nomura Securities. An Elizabeth Frink sculpture that depicts shepherd with his flock of sheep ‘Paternoster’ (also known as The Shepherd) adds to the comic book-like caricature of an evil financial headquarters – a clear faux pas by the squares PR department.

By arresting the space the Occupy protestors raised questions around the relationship between the public and privatized spaces to shift from the peripheral to the foreground.
Though a high-court injunction allowed police and private security to eject the protestors from the square, it was this moment where POPS bluff was called and revealed the true allegiances of these spaces, as well as the iron fist of corporate control.
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