There are those who would argue strongly that some forms of music are unlistenable and hurt the ears.

Boy bands, grime, jazz, bluegrass to name a few ... all have their fans, aficionados, hecklers and disparagers.

For some, the sound of a country song can bring them to tears - of despair that songs about truckers and beer can even be considered music at all.

Then there are those for whom opera should be over well before the hero/heroine expires on stage reaching for notes so high they can shatter glass.

Advertisement

Whatever the individual taste in music, there is widespread agreement that, by and large, it is a positive and benign influence, soothing and inspiring the soul.

For many people, music can ease stress, creating an island of calm when all is chaos, and channel rage and anger at the world into raw sound or reflect pain, loss and heartbreak. It is hugely valuable.

It is no coincidence that sad songs, in all languages and cultures, are the most popular. They carry in them all the universal feelings about loss, sadness, providing release and affirmation that these are experiences we all share.

There are also ways music can be twisted into a weapon.

A recent example of this can be heard in some railway stations in Berlin. Atonal modern music is being piped into the areas where homeless people gather, the idea being that these people can be thwarted in their efforts to find somewhere warm to sleep by playing music that will drive them nuts and make them leave.

(NB: Wikipedia "Atonality in its broadest sense is music that lacks a tonal centre".)

True, this type of music is not everyone's thing. Likewise some of us will leave a room or a building to avoid hearing an unsolicited rendering of a Barry Manilow song. But this is a choice.

The weaponising of music is an abuse of art in its most insidious forms. Perhaps the thought was that if we play Vivaldi, the homeless people might find some joy and pleasure in it and that would never do.

Similar tactics have been adopted in shopping malls to deter young people from congregating, talking and generally hanging about. Cliff Richard is a favourite.

Now there are lots of us who find Cliff Richard a social repellent and would actively remove ourselves from the vicinity, so I guess it could be argued that it works. But, again, using music in this way goes against the wider value of music to the human psyche.

Music has been and is still used as a method of torture.

Played continuously and at huge volume, even the theme from Sesame Street has been used to torture prisoners in war zones. In Afghanistan, Metallica's Enter Sandman was a popular choice.

The irony of hearing the Bee Gees singing Staying Alive on repeat at bone-rattling volume would be lost on someone locked in a cell in fear of their lives. A psychologic operations trainer admitted to having had more than he could stand after exposure to Barney I Love You for 45 minutes.

While we might mock the bizarre music choices for torturing people, there is a darker side.

Music represents the best in human creativity and should not be harnessed for advancing the horrors of torture.

Torture is not only cruel but it is also ineffective. Numerous studies have shown it does nothing to reveal secrets or the truth - it only reveals the degree of cruelty that can be applied to a fellow human being.

■Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a musician, writer and social worker - feedback welcome: tgs@inspire.net.nz