The Effect of Affects in Psychoacoustics


Sound as a Weapon for Social Control and Neurological Applications of Music Therapy

Hardt’s foreword, What Affects Are Good For, explains that affects, in humanities and social science contexts, consider the correspondence between the body and mind, reason and passion, and ‘belong simultaneously to both sides of the causal relationship’[1]; our power to affect the world around us, and equally, be affected by it.

Hardt (2007) traces the ‘affective turn’ in academic research back to the seventeenth century, to ‘one of the most important philosophers’ – Baruch Spinoza – ‘… certainly the most radical of the early modern period’[2].

Spinoza’s propositions are two fold: the correspondence between the mind and body, which exist autonomously yet develop in parallel, and the ability of each to simultaneously affect and be affected. Hardt (2007) describes optimism in the Spinozian perspective to ethics and political: to ‘transform passions into actions’; from external to internal ‘which are necessarily joyful’[3].

Hardt identifies that the central problem with applying a Spinozian perspective to affects, the correspondence across each divide, also engages a theoretical reflection that has the potential to present political possibilities in academic research and practice.

One particular example is in the field of psychoacoustics, which explores not only the temporal and spectral characteristics of sound but also the psychophysical response (how the ear receives audio signals, how the brain processes this information, how the brain is affected by the process) and the environmental response (room acoustics, architecture & design for public and private spaces, absorption, diffusion and isolation) (Zwicker & Fastl 2013).

In their text, Acoustics and Psychoacoustics, Howard and Angus (2009) describe a range of applications including: noise-reducing headphones, ‘secret sounds’ like those of “teen buzz” smart phone ring tones which utilise the upper end of the frequency spectrum generally only heard by younger ears and audio coding systems (p. 415-418).

In some cases, the political possibilities have resulted in psychoacoustics being used as a weapon for social control. For example, in Australia and the UK, there have been several cases reported of private enterprises[4], local councils and even police[5] using classical music, high frequencies and even the greatest hits of Barry Manilow[6] to deter loitering teenagers.

In the field of music therapy, affect-focused research has resulted in discoveries in the relationship between music and memory for people with acquired brain injuries. Clive Wearing, a British musicologist and classical musician, cannot form new memories and has lost many past memories, but can play full overtures on piano[7].

Affect analysis assists in articulating the ways in which we engage with media, and how such engagement changes our ontological makeup. In the field of psychoacoustics, the effects of affect-focused research is evident in the practices of sound for social control and music therapy.

[1] Hardt, M. 2007, Foreward: What affects are good for, in Clough, P.C. & Halley, J. (eds.) The Affective Turn : Theorizing the Social, Duke University Press, Durham and London

[2] Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2001. Baruch Spinoza, viewed 4 October 2016,

[3] Clough, P.C. & Halley, J. (eds.) 2007, The Affective Turn : Theorizing the Social, Duke University Press, Durham and London pp. 2

[4] Thompson, S. 2013, Mt Annon McDonald’s employs classical musical to deter loitering youths at night, Daily Telegraph Australia, viewed 1 October 2016


[5] Armitage, L. 2013, Police use classical music to stop young people from hanging out at Westfield Knox Shopping Centre, Herald Sun, viewed 1 October 2016, <>.

[6] ABC News Australia, 2008. High-pitched sound used to deter teenagers, viewed 1 October 2016, <>.
[7] Trosper, J. (n.d.) Clive Wearing: The man with the 30 second memory,, viewed 1 October 2016, <>.


Reference List


Hardt, M. 2007, Foreward: What affects are good for, in Clough, P.C. & Halley, J. (eds.) The Affective Turn : Theorizing the Social, Duke University Press, Durham and London

Howard, D.M. and Angus, J. 2009 (eds) Acoustics and Psychoacoustics, Fourth Edition, Elsevier, Oxford.

Zwicker, R. and Fastl, H. 2013, Psychoacoustics: Facts and Models (Vol 22). Springer Science and Business Media.


Image List

Huffington Post, 2014. Brain Processes Music Much Like Spoken Language, New Study Shows, viewed 1 October 2016, <;.



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