The Invisible Invasion

How does sound break from language, and how is this primal remainder – ‘the sonic’ deployed? Is it deployed as collective ecstasy or military repression? Is the deployment overt or covert? How does the mode of deployment affect ‘the sonic’ and what are the subsequent effects of this dynamic? How is this rupture between sound’s language and sonic otherness exploited? Is it utilized politically, for repression, uprising, subversion, control or emancipation?  

To begin, it is worth focusing on the schism of sound. It is necessary first of all to understand why despite the mutilation of sound, despite the socializing, logosification(1) of almost all sonic frequencies within our audible spectrum(2), there remains an awkward, alogos remnant; a primal, joyous or fearful essence of sound that is immune to language, order and logos.  

There is no genesis of the schism between sonic otherness and language-shackled (logosonics or phonology), there appears to be no event that causes this rupture. Sound, Voice and Music have always been dyadic, have always been composite – a dyadic extimacy(3) has always been the intrinsic dynamic and this has proved awkward for millennia. Dolar explores this notion, admittedly as a dichotomy between phone and logos, (and it’s inherent ‘problems’) in relation to the voice at great length. Many of his earliest citings, however, for this thorny dyad, this conflict between logos and phone, Zoe and Bios(4) (Dolar, 2006, P.43, 73, 81,121) apply to sound and music as much as they do to the metaphysics and politics of the voice. 

Let the music follow the sense of the words. Keep it simple and ingenius. One must condemn pretentious music which is devoid of sense and effeminate” – Chinese emperor Chun (c. 2200BC) (Dolar, 2006, P.43).  

A change to a new type of music is something to beware of as hazard to all our fortunes. For the modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions….It is here, then, I said, that our guardians must build their guardhouse and post of watch.  It is certain he said, that this is the kind of lawlessness that easily insinuates itself unobserved.  Yes, said I, because it is supposed to be only a form of play and to work no harm.  Nor does it work any, he said, except that by gradual infiltration it softly overflows upon the characters and pursuits of men and from these issues forth grown greater to attack their business dealings, and from these relations it proceeds against the laws and the constitution with wanton license, Socrates, till finally it overthrows all things public and private. (Plato 1978, Republic IV, 424c-e)." (Dolar, 2006, P.43-44.).  

Dolar explores many other Platonic texts of similar sentiment that will not be revisited here, for it may be felt that the split between phone, noise and logos, and meaning has already been outlined quite succinctly. Music or sound or noise is dangerous if it is not tied to logos; if it is not assigned a meaning. Therefore there is a need for all music and all sounds to have meaning, to be language, to be sensible - for if they are meaningless they are about soul – and this is dangerous. Chun and Plato say too much passionate sonic enjoyment is dangerous because it corrupts, however, given the context of these statements (considering the socially dominant position of the people who are speaking), it may be felt that the real danger is that ‘the sonic’, the soulful exo-remnant of music, the part that is exterior to logos and immune to language, is uncontrollable. In language, meanings are clear, the obedience or disobedience of a command is straightforward and easy to identify. This is not quite the case with that facet of sonic otherness that lurks outside language, immune to logos. If there is no pre-determined meaning, then any possibility of consequential obedience and/or disobedience disintegrate. A sound without meaning can never be a command it is not possible to conform to a sound without meaning; for rulers and leaders this is of no practical use. More worryingly for the established ruler is that the insensible, alogos sonic is that which thrills and inspires, excites and incites to a deeper degree than any meaningful, (logosified) sound ever could, this ethereal force (that will be revisited in greater detail later) has therefore been repressed and discouraged throughout history. Voices, music and sounds have always been forcibly shackled to logos.  

There is another split, another divide that can be contemplated in relation to the alogos and logos, the phone and logos and their dynamics of juxtaposition in the context of political importance (for the latter) and danger (for the former). Zoe and Bios. Dolar sums these concepts up: “Zoe is naked life, bare life, life reduced to animality; bios is life in the community, in the polis, political life” (Dolar, 2006, pp. 106). This may be understood to mean that logos, and bios are political and social constructs – the aspects of humanity that separate us from animals. Zoe is that facet of humanity which is nature, animalistic and driven by the same drives as the rest of the animal kingdom. This split is not a reading or segmentation of aspects of life, sound and noise but rather something that our modern signifier of “life” masks. As Agamben states in the opening paragraph in Homo Sacer that “The Greeks had no single term to express what we mean by the word “life.” They used two terms that, although traceable to a common etymological root, are semantically and morphologically distinct: zoē, which expressed the simple fact of living common to all living beings (animals, men, or gods), and bios, which indicated the form or way of living proper to an individual or a group.”. (Agamben, 1998, pp. 9). This division between phone and logos and the political implications the divide heralds concerning Zoe and Bios is most tangible in the voice as Aristotle frets:  

Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. And whereas mere voice (phone) is but an indication of pleasure of pain, and is therefore found in other animals (…), the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and an association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state. (Aristotle 2001, 1253a 7-18)”. (Dolar 2006, pp. 105).

For Aristotle, the basis of community, politics, state and family lies in using the power of speech for meaning to collectively tie our tongues to language as this is what “makes a family and a state". (Aristotle 2001, 1253a 7-18)”. (Dolar 2006, pp. 105).  

So, a dyad is formed. Logos (the sensible, the signifiers and meanings) and Bios (political life, communal humanity and the state) stand on one side with those in power, for a use of command, legislation, and law and also for being the foundations of our families and our states. On the other side is Zoe signified by bare life, animality and life forces and phone made up of sound and noise, be it in voice or music.  

However, there is still a further dimension that can be added to this dyad or more specifically there are two extra components, one for each side. These are The Dionysian and The Apollonian. As Nietzsche explores in detail (Nietzsche, 1999, PP.120) the Apollonian is that of semblance, beauty, knowledge and truth, he is the god of re-presentation:  

He is the 'luminous one' through and through; at his deepest root he is a god of the sun and light who reveals himself in brilliance. 'Beauty' is his element, eternal youth his companion. But the lovely semblance of the world of dreams is his realm too; the higher truth, the perfection of these dream-states in contrast to the only partially intelligible reality of the daylight world, raise him to the status of a prophetic god, but equally certainly to that of an artistic god. The god of lovely semblance must be the god of true knowledge as well. But the image of Apollo must also include that delicate line which the dream image must not overstep if its effect is not to become pathological, in which case the semblance does not simply deceive but also cheats; it must include that measured limitation, that freedom from wilder impulses, that wise calm of the image-making god. His eye must be 'sun-like' and calm; even when it is angry and shows displeasure, the consecrated aura of lovely semblance surrounds it.” (Nietzsche, 1999, PP.120)  

This can be contrasted with the Dionysian:  

Dionysiac art, by contrast, is based on play with intoxication, with the state of ecstasy. There are two principal forces which bring naive, natural man to the self-oblivion of intense intoxication: the drive of spring and narcotic drink. Their effects are symbolized in the figure of Dionysos. In both states the principium individuationis is disrupted, subjectivity dis- appears entirely before the erupting force of the general element in human life, indeed of the general element in nature. Not only do the festivals of Dionysos forge a bond between human beings, they also reconcile human beings and nature. Freely the earth brings its gifts, the fiercest beasts approach one another in peace; the flower-decked chariot of Dionysos is drawn by panthers and tigers. All the caste-like divisions which necessity and arbitrary power have established between men disappear; the slave is a free-man, the aristocrat and the man of lowly birth unite in the same Bacchic choruses. In ever-swelling bands the gospel of universal harmony' rolls on from place to place; as they sing and dance, human beings express their membership of a higher, more ideal community; they have forgotten how to walk and speak.” (Nietzsche, 1999, PP.120)  

The Apollonian is set up as the depiction of what is, arguably, there; of truth, knowledge and beauty. As Nietzsche remarks: “The god of lovely semblance must be the god of true knowledge as well.” (Nietzsche, 1999, PP.120). The word ‘semblance’ appears three times in the above quote concerning The Apollonian, which merits time to consider its definition. The Merriam-Webster definitions of semblance is an “outward and often specious appearance or show”, an outwardly facing, possibly dubious, showing of something – is this not what language is? Language is built from signifiers, things that resemble or represent an inner truth, dead signs that are the vital tools of communication, the tools that, as Aristotle believes separates us from animals and “makes a family and a state. (Aristotle 2001, 1253a 7-18)”. (Dolar 2006, pp. 105).  

The Dionysian is the force of nature swelling through man, dissolving “all the caste-like divisions which necessity and arbitrary power have established between men” (Nietzsche, 1999, PP.120). Subjectivity and individuality are jettisoned as The Dionysian takes hold: “principium individuation is disrupted, subjectivity dis-appears entirely before the erupting force of the general element in human life” (Nietzsche, 1999, PP.120). The animalistic Zoe, pre-logos, (pre-brutalised into meaning and sensibility) facet of us is what is brought to the fore in Dionysian ecstasy. This is the collective, the crowd writhing amidst Bacchanalia and bass – commanded by an unseen cthulhian force: “Nature expresses itself with its highest energy in Dionysiac intoxication, in the tumultuous, wild chase across all the scales of the soul under the influence of narcotic stimulants or when the drives of spring are unleashed; it binds individual creatures together again, and it makes them feel that they are one with each other, so that the principium individuationis appears, so to speak, to be a perpetual state of weakness of the Will.” (Nietzsche, 1999, PP.122).  

It is worth noting how ubiquitous and repressive the Apollonian/Logos/Bios side of this dynamic is. The Dionysian/Phone/Zoe has been shackled for years, the pure voice, the original sonic has long been entwined in a nupta contagioso or nupta cadevera(5) with Apollonian/Logos/Bios/Musical Modes/Language/Signification. Therefore let us return again to Plato to elucidate upon the political interests in keeping the animalistic, alogos sonic tethered to meanings, logos, and signification:  

Our music was formally divided into several kinds and patterns. One kind of song, which went by the name of a hymn, consisted of prayers to the gods; there was a second and contrasting kind which might well have been called a lament; paeans were a third kind, and there was a forth, the dithyramb, as it was called, dealing, if I am not mistaken, with the birth of Dionysus. Now these and other types were definitely fixed, and it was not permissible to misuse one kind of melody for another. The competence to take cognizance of these rules, to pass verdicts in accord with them, and, in case of need, to penalize their infraction was not left, as it is today, to the catcalls and discordant outcries of the crowd, nor yet to the clapping of applauders; the educated made it their rule to hear the performances through in silence, and for the boys, their attendants, and the rabble at large, there was the discipline of the official’s rod to enforce order. Thus the bulk of the populace was content to submit to this strict control in such matters without venturing to pronounce judgment by its clamors. Afterward, in course of time, an unmusical license set in with the appearance of poets who were men a native genius, but ignorant of what is right and legitimate in the realm of the Muses. Possessed by a frantic and unhallowed lust for pleasure, they contaminated laments with hymns and paeans with dithyrambs, actually imitated the strains of the flute on the harp, and created a universal confusion of forms. Thus their folly led them unintentionally to slander their profession by the assumption that in music there is no such thing as a right and a wrong, the right standard of judgment being the pleasure given to the hearer, be he high or low. By compositions of such a kind and discourse to the same effect, they naturally inspired the multitude with contempt of musical law, and a conceit of their own competence as judges. Thus our once silent audiences have found a voice, in the persuasion that they understand what is good and bad in art; the old “sovereignty of the best” in that sphere has given way to an evil “sovereignty of the audience.” If the consequence had been even a democracy, no great harm would have been done, so long as the democracy was confined to art, and composed of free men. But, as things are with us, music has given occasion to a general conceit of universal knowledge and contempt for law, and liberty has followed in their train. Fear was cast out by confidence in supposed knowledge, and the loss of it gave birth to impudence. For to be unconcerned for the judgment of one’s betters in the assurance which comes of a reckless excess of liberty is nothing in the world but reprehensible impudence. So the next stage of the journey toward liberty will be refusal to submit to magistrates, and on this will follow emancipation from the authority and correction of parents and elders; then, as the goal of the race is approached, comes the effort to escape obedience to the law, and, when that goal is all but reached, contempt for oaths, for the plighted word, and all religion. The spectacle of the Titanic nature of which our old legends speak is reenacted; man returns to the old condition of a hell of unending misery.”(Plato, Laws, 700a-701c, 1961).

The sentiment here being: Do not stray from logos, otherwise everything will fall apart; if you allow the people to stray from set musical modes, the law will hold no authority and a Pandora’s box of hellish chaos will be opened. This is what can occur if you allow sonic freedom to those “Possessed by a frantic and unhallowed lust for pleasure”(Plato, Laws, 700a-701c, 1961) to pursue The Dionysian.  

This mezentian(6) torture between Apollonian (Logos) and Dionysian (Phone) sides ensures that the living is controlled and mediated by the dead. By making sense of something, to always tie something to a dead symbol is to act vampirically, to suck life out of the living for the primacy of Logos to prevail and dominate: “Phono-logy stabs the voice with the signifying dagger; it does away with its living presence, with its flesh and blood” (Dolar, 2006, pp. 19, my hyphen).  

However, today the reality is not as simple as the dichotomy presented so far. It is naïve to presume that all authority sides with logos and the Apollonian in order to maintain the order of Bios; perhaps paradoxically, the opposite (authority harnessing The Dionysian) is just as vital for the maintenance of Bios in contemporary society. As Dolar outlines in his understanding of this dyad of ineradictable extimacies, (7) the two way “topological paradox” (Dolar, 2006, pp. 81) of Phone and Logos is a perpetuating mobiusesque dynamic for the existence and support of contemporary Bios, modern day political, urban and societal workings. Animalistic instincts (Zoe), fear and ecstasy, unleashed by The Dionysian can be tools for the support of an established order. Exo-logos, alogos, The Dionysian (Zoe) can be harnessed, and calculatingly deployed for political control, overtly or covertly.  

The infrasonic and ultrasonic are perhaps the most effective tools of alogos sonics. They can be deployed covertly and overtly, aggressively or passively, and often, due to their ultralow or ultrahigh (respective) frequencies, offer unique acoustic (spatial-sonic) properties that ‘regular’ frequencies (from the center of our audible spectrum) do not possess. The Mosquito Anti-Social Device (M.A.D.) (8) is an example of ultrasonic, alogos, supporting anthropological control, supporting order and bios. The device operates by emitting an ultra high frequency sound “that the majority of people over the age of 25 have lost the ability to hear” (Goodman, 2009, pp. 183). The sensation is allegedly unpleasant, and deters younger citizens away from the audible range of the device. To situate “such emergent tactics in the modulation of populations”(Goodman, 2009, pp. 183) it is vital to align this technological phenomena with two of the previously outlined vectors.  

Firstly there is no specific meaning in the sound emitted from The Mosquito Anti-Social Device (M.A.D.). The sonic is alogos, a sensation rather than a specific signifier as opposed to common sirens and alarms that are imbued with meanings, or communicate an urgency. Such high frequencies, from the penumbra of audition are void of meaning and cannot be coded; the physical and psychoacoustic sensations they provoke are the mode of control and control, not communication, is the purpose.  

Secondly, Zoe, bare life and animality is the design genesis of such “technologies initially deployed as a means of rodent control” (Goodman, 2009, pp. 184). The effectiveness of such devices hinges around, and is produced from, the instinctive nature of the bare life, the Dionysian, the animalistic, feeling rather than understanding, reacting rather than communicating or listening.  

Here is an exception to the historical cartography of Zoe/Bios, Phone(alogos)/Logos and Dionysian/Apollonian. In devices such as The Mosquito Anti-Social Device (M.A.D.) Zoe is essentially co-opted by Bios and deployed as an aggressive support/defense for the maintenance of Bios. Peripheral manifestations of Zoe are absorbed by Bios as further nourishment for the latters dominance. I will return to this Agambian notion later, but before doing so we can regard similarly aggressive sonic politics at the opposite end of the audible spectrum.  

‘The Rumbler’ is a device developed by the Federal Signal Corporation and described in the company’s promotional material as an “intersection-clearing system.” (Prochnik, 2011). Its purpose is to increase the effectiveness of the original police siren by augmenting the sound with a massive bolstering of bass: “Rumblers copy the primary siren signal, drop the frequency seventy-five percent, then hyperpump the volume. Federal Signal (the defendant in multiple class action suits by firefighters with hearing loss) reports that the depth of bass attained by the system has “the distinct advantage of penetrating solid materials, allowing vehicle operators and nearby pedestrians to FEEL the sound waves.” (Prochnik, 2011). Affecting similar psychological, instinctual and Zoe based consequences as The Mosquito Anti-Social Device (M.A.D.) ‘The Rumbler’ works by adding an alogos sonic component to the original siren message, a message that through ubiquity, familiarity and understanding has become ineffective at dispersing people. The familiar siren is impotent through logos, dead from the stabbing of “the signifying dagger” (Dolar, 2006, pp. 19), so it now needs a living, pre-logosification sonic to replenish its capacity to yield fear and primal responses amongst those within audible range.  

The successful modern siren such as ‘The Rumbler’, is an example of contemporary Bios/Polis co-opting the primal facets of Zoe into it’s own arsenal of self perpetuation mechanics. As Prochnik eloquently observes: “that all our stress markers elevate on hearing a siren, even when we consciously pay no attention to it. Our physiologies never learn that every siren we hear isn’t coming to get us. Whether resembling ghoul cat cries, mad birds, or blurts from rhinos on steroids, sirens have been designed to convey one fact above all: these beasts are not on our side. Striking somewhere full fathom five in the amygdala, sirens conjure the nightmare predators our ancestors froze before or flew from on peril of their lives.” (Prochnik, 2011). Something that one can feel and fear is more effective than something one can merely hear and understand. Contemporary Bios will continue to co-opt the pre-logos sonic and harness the primal reactions of bare life (Zoe) as the ubiquity of urban noises and control strategies increases, as such modes of control become familiar and logosified their potency is depleted, contemporary maintenance strategies of Bios already deploy sonics from the edge of audibility; but as technology and psychological understanding of sound progresses so will the creativity of Bios control/maintenance strategies that harness the wild Zoe for (bio)political purposes.

However, to focus on the technological capabilities that allow Bios the invocation of Zoe and bare life, either through pure alogos phone or Dionysian abandon is too misinterpret, or perhaps loose sight of the extimacy, the dyadic, paradoxical dynamic which is not just a recent phenomenon but an eternally internal and external dilemma of politics since politics began.(9). Modern manifestations of Bios co-opting Zoe and order harnessing the Dionysian are further coagulations of this intrinsic dyadic struggle, the historically rigid notions of strict separation have always been a fallacy, as Dolar explores in great detail, all divisions between the masculine logos authority and feminine soulful alogos phone have been constructed around an ineradicatble extimacy:  

Masculine and feminine positions would then be two ways of tackling the same impossibility; they arise from the same predicament as two internally linked versions of dealing with the same object which retains an ineradictable ambiguity” (Dolar, 2006, pp. 56)  

Essentially the power of authority, order and logos that construct bios and political life are subject and dependent to a kernel of presence from Zoe, of an alogos phone of bare life:  

If the Law, the Word, logos, had to constantly fight the voice as its other, as the senseless bearer of enjoyment, feminine decadence, it could do so only by implicitly relying on that other voice, the voice of the father accompanying the Law. (…) Does the voice of the persecutor differ sharply from the persecuted voice? The secret may be that they are both the same; that there are not two voices, but only the object voice which cleaves and bars the other in an ineradictable “extimacy”.” (Dolar, 2006, 55-56)  

This raises the contemporary dilemma. Historically the extimatic relationship has been politically and philosophically formulated as two autonomous parts. Bios/Logos/Apollonian granting law and order and meaning whilst Zoe/Phone/Dionysian harbor danger and the animalistic facets of ‘life’. This division has been presented in a rather logocentric vain, to maintain the dominance of the order of Bios (whilst paradoxically such order is covertly dependent upon it’s Zoe/Phone/Dionysian counterpart). Agamben writes that “the entry of zoē into the sphere of the polis – the politicization of bare life as such – constitutes the decisive event of modernity and signals a radical transformation of the political- philosophical categories of classical thought.” (Agamben, 1998, pp. 10). This is, for sure, a massive political-philosophical transformation and we must begin to question this shift and the contingent implications.  

Under the forced fallacy of the historical dichotomy (Zoe/Bios, Phone/Logos and Apollonian/Dionysian) the convert invocation of the Zoe/Phone/Dionysian power was tempered by the paradoxical topology and it’s logocentric position of having to conceal the Zoe/Phone/Dionysian fuel. A flagrant use or misuse by Bios/Logos/Apollonian of the Zoe/Phone/Dionysian was an impossibility. Now “the entry of zoē into the sphere of the polis – the politicization of bare life” (Agamben, 1998, pp. 10) leaves the politics of Bios and order expanding further into ‘life’, and brazenly trespassing into Zoe, into bare life. To begin to understand, the invisible (sonic) invasion is the task at hand.

1. logosification, from λόγος Logos, in the Heraclitian sense, a principle of order and knowledge. Robert Audi, Ed. 1999. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press.  

2. Approx 20hz – 20khz, see Steve Goodman, 2009. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Technologies of Lived Abstraction). 1 Edition. The MIT Press. For audio examples see (last accessed 19/11/2011)

3. Extimacy, see Dolars definition. (Dolar, 2006, P. 81)  

4. See Dolar, 2006, PP.120-121. I believe this presupposes Agambian notions of Zoe and Bios (Agamben, 2005)  

5. See Negarestani, 2008, PP 129-130.  

6. Ibid.  

7. My wording but see Dolar (Dolar, 2006, pp. 81), and presentation notes at (last accessed 08/01/2012)  

8. For further details see Goodman, 2009, pp. 183-188  9. At least 24 centuries, dating back to the first utterances of Zoe and Bios.


Steve Goodman, 2009. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Technologies of Lived Abstraction). 1 Edition. The MIT Press.

Mladen Dolar, 2006. A Voice and Nothing More (Short Circuits). Edition. The MIT Press.

Robert Audi, Ed. 1999. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press.

Ovid, 2009. Metamorphoses (Oxford World's Classics). Reissue Edition. Oxford University Press, USA.

Giorgio Agamben, 2005. State of Exception. 1 Edition. University Of Chicago Press

Friedrich Nietzsche, 1999. Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy). Edition. Cambridge University Press.

Reza Negarestani, (2008) ‘The Corpse Bride: Thinking with Nigredo’, Collapse Journal IV, pp. 129-161.

Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (eds.), The Collected Dialogues of Plato Including the Letters  (New York: Pantheon Books, 1961)

George Prochnik. (2011). ‘The Orchestra’, Cabinet Magazine, Infrastructure, Issue 41, Spring 2011.

Giorgio Agamben, 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics). 1 Edition. Stanford University Press


  1. When I first started hearing voices to my horror I started hearing voices in music. In the basslines and melodies. The more rhythmic and repetitive the more i'd hear. Of course dancing to repetitive beats could be hell, the same word repeating again and again, changing slightly.
    The best defence was to move your arse to the bassline not the drums.
    But one of the reasons I got interested in noise music was that it blocked out the voices. I got into free improvisation first. I could still hear voices in it but at least it wasn't the same repetitive Law being drilled in again and again. But noise dissipated the voices completely.
    I still put noise music on when I study, it keeps any police out. It's my policing of the police. My Law keep out sound.

  2. SS - your comments are always intriguing, that's very interesting. Have you looked at Bubbles or The Mladen Dolar book yet?

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