Intensive Territories: Politics of Amplification

by Donia Jourabchi & Taufan ter Weel

Published in Warsound | Warszawa, ed. by Krzysztof Marciniak (Warsaw: CSW Ujazdowski Castle, 2016) pp. 8-22. [Other contributors: Edyta Jarząb & Dorian Batycka.]


[N]oise that is external to the existing code can also cause its mutation. […] These deviations from the original usage of the code constitute a profound danger to the existing powers, so much so that they sometimes transform their morphologies in order to benefit from the new network themselves. [1]

– Jacques Attali, Noise (1977)

Warsaw, July 8, 2016, a sonorous spectacle overwhelms the everyday noises of the city. The piercing tones of sirens, accompanied by the rumble of fast-moving armoured cars passing by in procession, shift in frequency one after another, and gradually crossfade into the pulsating chopper sound of surveillance from the sky. The presence of the NATO Summit determines the atmosphere and affects daily rhythms with intensive dominance, as a storm that equalises our senses along with the city’s entire landscape.

The summit takes place while Warsaw is in the midst of an ongoing process of ‘reprivatisation’, which comes down to the dispossession of the homes and public infrastructure (schools, hospitals) that were collectively rebuilt by the inhabitants after World War II. Since the fall of the communist regime in 1989, privatisation and violent eviction have been legitimised by claims of pre-war ownership. This process enables governance by corrupt partnerships, and to a large extent involves international real-estate investments. It can be understood as accumulation by dispossession, which is inherent in neoliberal politico-economic practice on a global scale. [2] Resistance is systematically and violently muted: one of the most appalling cases is the death of Jolanta Brzeska, a prominent housing activist and one of the founders of the Warsaw Tenants’ Association. When she disappeared, she was the last inhabitant refusing to leave the housing building where she lived; her burnt body was found in the forest on March 7, 2011. [3] The ongoing struggle against eviction (and for the right to the city in a broader sense) is exposed and contextualised clearly in the documentary House on Strike (2016). [4]

This process of privatisation and dispossession is intertwined with the rise of right-wing nationalism. The extreme right is gaining support by utilising anti-communist, anti-German and anti-Russian sentiments. In addition, it adapts highly conservative Christian principles of patriarchal power that legitimise the violation of women’s rights, by the prohibition of abortion, among others. Their political rhetoric amplifies fear and hate, xenophobia and racism. The deeply rooted tradition of patriotism is instrumentalised to encourage engagement in paramilitary training, in order to ‘strengthen’ the nation’s military force by developing a Territorial Defence component ‘with a target strength of 50,000 [paramilitary] soldiers, permanently linked to the local community and equipped with the most modern weaponry and working closely with operating forces’, as current defence minister Antoni Macierewicz announced. [5] This component was conceptualised early in 2016 and included in the agreements at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, in order to reinforce the NATO Alliance’s ‘military capabilities’ to counter so-called ‘hybrid threats’. These complex interrelated processes exemplify the convolution of concentrated totalitarian power (fascism, Stalinism) and diffuse governance (neoliberalism) into integrated forms of spectacular power. [6] How do these emerging agencies of oppressive power operate? How can we amplify resistance to their intensive territorialisation?

CRITICAL BAND

Intensive territories are physical. Representative powers construct selective solidarity through mechanisms of affective modulation. Modulation, in basic terms of vibrational energy, is a process whereby oscillations affect one another. It ranges from the modulation of a carrier wave in signal transmission to the modulation of social processes or the circulation of capital. Concentrated control mechanisms transmit a monophonic voice, carried out with full-range power, while diffuse control mechanisms interlink and cross-modulate; they remain ambiguous, adaptive and selectively deregulatory. In Guy Debord’s ‘integrated spectacle’, diffusion is a consequent stream of ‘fluid and potentially ubiquitous’ disinformation, used to ‘counter-attack’ any real information. [7]

If occasionally a kind of unregulated disinformation threatens to appear, in the service of particular interests temporarily in conflict, and threatens to be believed, getting out of control and thus clashing with the concerted work of a less irresponsible disinformation, there is no reason to fear that the former involves other manipulators who are more subtle or more skilled: it is simply because disinformation now spreads in a world where there is no room for verification. The confusionist concept of disinformation is pushed into the limelight immediately to refute, by its very name, any criticism that has failed to be eliminated by the diverse agencies of the organization of silence. [8]

Since the end of the Cold War, strategic leadership has shifted from static models to dynamic anticipation of the lived environment. The complexity of the world, the ‘unpredictable’ dynamics of power relations, appeared in military vocabulary as the VUCA era. [9] This acronym stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity, and stages the diffuse mode of spectacular power in order to maintain control within a non-linear environment. Adaptive tactics, based on these four principles, are applied most prominently in crisis management, which is one of the ‘essential core tasks and principles’ of NATO: it has a ‘robust set of political and military capabilities to address the full spectrum of crises – before, during and after conflict’. [10] Correspondingly, global financial-crisis management manipulates economic crises and other disasters in order to redistribute wealth. [11] The industrial mode of operation based on efficiency and expansion (scientific management, Fordism) is integrated with adaptive systems which function through intensive territorialisation.

Intensive territories do not replace enclosures or borders, but rather restructure and reinforce them. While unbound information transference and global circulation expand and accelerate rapidly, territories become ever more bound, in constant need of intensified protection at their borders. Capitalist governing bodies, however, increasingly employ strategies of de-territorialisation and technologies of modulation to gain continuous control. [12] These regulating authorities nonetheless evaluate property in terms of extent: capital accumulation requires measurement by division and therefore needs conversion from continuous flows to discrete numbers and vice versa. Conversion enables operation at the intersection of coding and decoding, of modulation and demodulation, of de-territorialisation and re-territorialisation. [13] The aforementioned process of ‘reprivatisation’, for instance, is a concrete example in which this type of operation is employed.

Modulation and conversion enable the centralisation of ubiquitous control. In other words, these processes allow for the concentration of power, whilst at the same time it remains diffuse. Their applications are numerous and can be interlinked. A concrete example of such an application is a filtering or search algorithm that directs attention, targets particular desires, and allows unnoticed censorship. Another example is the Global Positioning System (GPS) which enables real-time insight into geolocation, the exact (absolute or relative) position of individuals or objects. It is a ‘dual-use’ technology that enables everyday usage of locative media by citizens (the Internet of Things), as well as remote-controlled warfare and surveillance. In addition to this, the body’s senses are dislocated to external infrastructures, to technologies of mediation (modulation, conversion), incorporated into a centralised, dynamic social-control mechanism – based on the logic of amplification.

These advanced technologies of amplification enable control over tendency masks that modulate the dynamic boundaries of social oscillation – the masking thresholds of modulation, the critical bands. The governance of technological advancement is therefore of primary importance to the development and maintenance of dynamic mechanisms of control. It operates through corporate lobbying in order to influence policy-making, or by selective financing and promotion, among others. Additionally, scientific research is increasingly employed to legitimise previously taken decisions or mask their impact: to manage crises.

ACOUSTIC HORIZONS

The rhythms that shape our relational comprehension of the environment we inhabit manifest themselves in architectures of socio-spatial processes, in which cues articulate social interactions, spatial relations and movements. For instance, the periodic ringing of church bells acts as a public reminder of quantised time, and the area of sound propagation marks the spatial boundaries of a territory. Additionally, they cue particular public actions, as distress signals generated by sirens or triggered by alarm systems prompt procedural reactions. Social cues are registered noises that constitute shared meanings and modulate interactions within context-dependent social dynamics.

Possessing the means of recording allows one to monitor noises, to maintain them, and to control their repetition within a determined code […] it allows one to impose one’s own noise and to silence others: “Without the loudspeaker, we would never have conquered Germany,” wrote Hitler in 1938 in the Manual of German Radio. [14]

To make a pitch for sonic dominance, intensity control is the locus of affective modulation. Acoustic horizons are the ear’s appropriation of sound phenomena and the spatial interrelationships that compose a physical situation. In the domain of acoustic communication, intensification stresses the dynamics of interaction between the self and others. For instance, speech intonation affects the sonic quality of transmitted information and influences the intimacy in which the content is heard. The same message whispered in someone’s ear or shouted out from the rooftops sounds different and is perceived differently by the listener. In our built environment, the acoustic qualities of a space are designed according to its social function – think of a library space that imposes silence over any sound.

Remarkably sophisticated acoustic instrumentation is developed in the engineering of monitoring and surveillance systems. Although sound propagation (as a means of territorial control) has a much longer history in navigation, environmental observation, atmospheric monitoring systems and eavesdropping techniques, these preventive applications are increasingly expanding into global networks of discrete public surveillance and long-range monitoring (such as infrasound arrays), along with the development of highly performative information technologies. Similarly, military research into non-lethal weapons makes use of vibrational energy as a strategic instrument of riot control. Diverse experiments on a variety of organisms have proven that different types of oscillation have powerful effects on their psychological and physiological states. Since the early sixties, several U.S. defence programmes have actively invested in the development of a large number of acoustic and electromagnetic devices. Today, the targeted transmission of vibrational energy based on advanced waveguide technology is employed in sonic weapons that are used by the police, special forces and other military units worldwide to establish public order. In Poland, the government has purchased the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device), an array of speakers, or ultrasonic transducers, that projects focused high-intensity beams of sound over long distances. Spectral crowd control, ranging from infrasonic to ultrasonic vibration, expands the transmission of sound energy, to affect and restrict the physical presence of human and non-human bodies within the controlled area. [16]

This defines the politics of amplification that constitutes our acoustic horizons, and which is fundamental to any territorial (or socio-spatial) formation. Power relations composing our lived environment are hierarchically organised magnitudes of sound energy that function through vibrational dominance and the feedback of cultural significance. The culture of amplification goes hand in hand with the industrialisation of our intensive territories, in which technological transformations of physical information transference turn into everyday habits. Culture transmission has deviated from shared experiential knowledges, to become an auxiliary factor of economic production, and is therefore echoed in the prominent representative ego of material practice. As such, technologies of amplification can be used to intervene deliberately in (sonic) identity branding, musical expression and corresponding behaviour, and in their respective spaces of sound propagation. Authorities strengthen their position by privileging certain acoustic waves and prohibiting others, by restricting non-conventional (electro-) acoustic emissions. Public loudness, or perceived intensive territories, can be understood as tactical configurations of noises: a social battlefield controlled through sustaining social distortion and acoustic discrimination by amplification and masking.

ALL EARS

Loudness, affect and control, within the context of listening and sonic practices based on situated knowledges, [17] were the points of departure for a survey of political demonstrations which happened on a daily basis on the streets of Warsaw in 2016. These preoccupations, together with our common concerns about the aforementioned socio-political situation, led to broader questions about the role of sound in relation to the consolidation of power. The public demonstrations we took part in gave the general impression that these noises are solely tolerated under strict conditions of spatial configuration – the regulation of protest functions as a tendency mask that governs the release of pressure necessary to maintain authority. However, these mobilisations embody strong representational and affective powers as harbingers of social change – the amplification of a different voice to be heard, the sound of protest, will always remain relevant. Contrary to demonstrations, targeted public actions or interventions that seek to expose real information or social injustice are muted at any cost. These are a true disturbance to the contemporary agencies of integrated governance – to the global management of disinformation.

In Poland, the spontaneous organisation of improvised social space is repressed: bound by abstract logic and encapsulated norms, without the space for motion. As such, legislation (e.g. planned new rules on public gatherings) becomes a conceptual trap that justifies the criminalisation and policing of communities. Likewise, ‘dual-use’ can become a strategic manoeuvre to impose silence: to marginalise, mask or mute grass-roots resistances, to dampen them culturally, or to designate them as objects of public fear. Legislation and policy create imaginary borders between people and groups; they can trigger polarisation, intentionally or otherwise. In order to interrupt these mechanisms of social disintegration, exclusion and dispossession, we may need to listen attentively to the leaking noises, and seek to expose the processes of conversion and modulation, where control operates and concentrates its power.

The practice of improvisation allows for re-territorialisation, the establishing of intensive spaces of mutual inclusion which harbour the transformative power of everyday life: a common ground for social change through engagement in non-dualistic resistance. Culture is generated from within, resonating internally as well as propagating a sense of community. Aural knowledges are built through oral transmission, even when functioning via electroacoustic mediation. Comprehending the operating systems of mediation is therefore a critical factor in maintaining culture from within, whereby the key to self-control and independency is access to its operational core – source code, network nodes, physical infrastructure, i.e. the means of production. Lastly, it is the practice of listening that allows communication – the basis of community. Listening, by its nature, transcends mono-directional information transference and the mechanisms of exclusion: it enables mutual inclusion and grounds the amplification of resistance.

NOTES

[1]  Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006 [1985, 1977]) p. 35.

[2] See David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[3] Kolektyw Syrena, ‘We are the city: Jola Brzeska: reprivatisation and the struggle for the right to the city in Warsaw, Poland’, BaBel2 – abitare critico / independent biennale of critical housing (Rome, 2012).

[4] Kolektyw Syrena, House On Strike: Syrena to nie skłot, to strajk (Warsaw: TV Kryzys, 2016); see www.syrena.tk

[5] Antoni Macierewicz, quoted in Poland’s Defence Ministry Head in Kraków (Republic of Poland: Ministry of National Defence, 2016) http://en.mon.gov.pl/news/article/latest-news/polands-defence-ministry-head-in-krakow-c2016-10-19/

[6] Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, trans. by Malcom Imrie (Paris: Editions Gerard Lebovici, 1988) pp. 3-4.

[7] Ibid. pp. 17-18.

[8] Ibid. p. 18.

[9] James A. Lawrence & Earl N. Steck, Overview of Management Theory (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College, 1991).

[10] NATO Public Diplomacy Division, NATO Summit Guide, Warsaw 2016 (Brussels: NATO, 2016) pp. 300-301.

[11] Harvey, p. 162.

[12] See Gilles Deleuze, ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’, October, 59 (1992), 3-7.

[13] For example, see Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (London: Continuum, 2004 [1980]) pp. 230-255.

[14] Attali, p. 87.

[15] See LRAD Corporation, Products: Long Range Acoustic Devices (2016) https://www.lradx.com/product_categories/long-range-acoustic-devices/

[16] For details on the development of acoustic weapons, see for instance Juliette Volcler, Extremely Loud: Sound as a Weapon (New York: The New Press, 2013 [2011]).

[17] See Donna Haraway, ʻSituated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspectiveʼ, Feminist Studies, 14: 3 (1988) 575-599.