International WorkshopPublié le 06.11.2018

Sound and Music in War from the Middle Ages to the Present


 Sound and music have been mobilised both in warfare and in recollections of war and extreme violence. From sound descriptions in the chronicles of armed expeditions in the Middle Ages to the listening practices of soldiers in contemporary armed conflicts, people who experience war and extreme violence have mobilised musical practices and listening in different ways depending on their conceptions of the nature and the power of sound and music. Why do people sing when they are fighting in war? Why are sound descriptions used in the recollections of war and extreme violence? This workshop will outline answers to these questions by examining the ontology of sound and music from the points of view of the different actors as well as the interaction rituals in which sound and music are mobilised in times of war. In fact, far from being universal and shared concepts, music and sound must be questioned from a historical and anthropological perspective in order to reveal the significance that the actors have given them in specific contexts. 

Firstly we will study how repertoires and musical practices have been used in the battlefield to coordinate military actions, delimit acoustic spaces, unify combatants around a ‘sound identity’, or establish emotional dominance over the enemy. Secondly, we will examine how music and ‘non-musical’ sounds are used in interaction rituals before or after fighting in order that they arouse specific emotions, promote group solidarity or create the categorical identities necessary to engage in armed violence. Finally, we will pay particular attention to the relationship between sound and memory in the descriptions of aural experiences of war and extreme violence given by both combatants and civilians. 

The workshop is organised in three parts, each corresponding to an area of enquiry. First, we will develop a critical reflection on sources and methods available to researchers working on the relationship between music, armed conflict and extreme violence. A second part will be devoted to the ontology of sound and music in wartime and extreme violence dynamics. In the third and final part, we examine interaction rituals in which sound and music are mobilised during war and dynamics of extreme violence. 


1. Critical analysis of sources and methods 

. Sources available to study the relationship between music, violence and war from a historical and anthropological perspective, 

. Strengths and limitations of ethnographic enquiry in contemporary conflicts, 

. State censorship and self-censorship in torture or war testimonies, 

. Difficulties in translating oral and written sources. 

2. Ontology of sound and music 

. Difference and overlap between sound and music, 

. Sound, music and sacred space and time, 

. Ontology of sound in chronicles of war and extreme violence, 

. Sound and memory in recollections of war and extreme violence. 

3. Relationship between sound, music and interaction rituals 

. Links between music repertoires and interaction rituals, 

. Music, interaction rituals and identity fusion, 

. Sound, music and outbreak of violence, 

. Sound, music and effervescence, 

. Sound, music and emotional dominance.