Classical music: has it been ‘weaponized’?

“Classical music was first used as a deterrent by 7-Eleven convenience stores in British Colombia, Canada. In 1985, branch managers began piping classical music into the stores’ parking lots in order to prevent teenagers from congregating there.”

– explains Dr Marie Thompson who is a lecturer at Lincoln School of Film & Media, Lincoln University, UK. Dr Thompson is pointing out that although classical music has been celebrated as a pinnacle of human achievement, with the capacity to enlighten, move and even (some say) enhance mental ability, that has not prevented some from deciding that it could also be used as a weapon. Indeed it’s already been deployed – not only in Canada, but also in the US and the UK.


Those who believe in such applications are of the opinion that “yobs”, “thugs”, ”hooligans”, “hoodies” and other “undesirables” are unlikely to appreciate the sophistication of classical music, to the extent that they will be actively repelled by it. Dr Thompson reminds us that the use of music (or sound) as a deterrent has a long history, going back (at least) as far as the so-called ‘Rough Music‘ events prevalent in 18th and 19th century Britain (also see: Charivari etc)

“The weaponised use of classical music might be thought of as a contemporary manifestation of rough music — or, perhaps more accurately »rough muzak.« As an audio-affective deterrent, classical music is used to irritate, annoy, and subsequently displace those who are suspected of threatening the moral and socio-economic orders of contemporary capitalism.”

See:Rough Muzak: affect and the weaponised use of classical music’ – published on the occasion of Un Tune CTM Festival 16th Edition, 23rd January – 1st February 2015, Berlin. There are further details on Everyday Sonic Warfare here.

Also see: A BBC report from 2006 documenting the weapon’s effectiveness on the London Underground.

Image: Detail from Charivari qui pend à l’oreille de Messieurs Guiz[ot], Dup[in], Thier[s], et tutti quanti Et il entendit comme un bruit de harpes mélodieuses qui chantaient ses louanges (Cantique d’Ezéchiel) : [estampe] Auteur : Grandville (1803-1847) courtesy Bibliotèque national de France. (Presented in the paper).

Related: Howard Stapleton of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, was awarded the 2006 Ig Nobel Peace Prize for inventing an electromechanical teenager repellant — a device that makes annoying high-pitched noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not to adults; and for later using that same technology to make telephone ringtones that are audible to teenagers but probably not to their teachers.

Many thanks: to Dr Thomson for assistance with this post.

Question [optional]: Would some classical music works perform better as weapons than others? If so, which?