The Music Room

The Music Room

For trombone and stereo tape

The Music Room was commissioned by James Fulkerson in 1976 and first performed by him, assisted by Stephen Montague, at the Wigmore Hall. The tape part was realised at the Keele University electronic music studio, which I had just begun to set up. One of the origins of the piece lay in the discovery, made during equipping the studio, that a firm which was supplying me with amplifiers, loudspeakers and so on, also had a contract with the army. Not convinced that there was any great enthusiasm in the military for electronic music, I eventually found out that sound was being developed by them as a means of interrogation and crowd control. In Northern Ireland, IRA suspects had been subjected to highly amplified white-noise over extended periods of time as part of interrogations by means of ‘sensory deprivation’, the effect of which was heightened by the use of blindfolding and loose-fitting clothing. The consequences of this procedure were no joke. Not a single ‘terrorist’ was unmarked by these means and several ‘guinea-pigs’ suffered severe, permanent psychological damage. The British Government was eventually condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for allowing these techniques to be used. The area where the interrogation took place was called ‘The Music Room’.

Another example of the use of sound by the military was the ill-fated ‘Squark Box’ developed for crowd dispersal on the street corners of Belfast and Derry. An army boffin discovered that a frequency of 10,000 cycles combined with another of 10,004 cycles would produce a strong subsonic difference to render queasy, nay incontinent, the suspicious groups gathered on the aforesaid street corners. Unfortunately for the encumbents of the armoured cars who were broadcasting this dangerous material, the sound-systems proved insufficiently directional. The army started to be taken just as short as the supposed enemy. No such dire effect on an audience by this work has yet been recorded!

In the music, which is not a political tract but which presents the above material in an ambivalent way, the electronic sounds are contrasted with a march tune which is ‘Lillibulero’, the regimental march of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

© 1977 Tim Souster