The dark side of music: Using sound in torture

This feature is part of Music and Your Mind, a series exploring how music affects your brain. Read part 1 on behavior and part 2 on healing.


General Augusto Pinochet's authoritarian regime, in Chile from 1973 to 1990, was known for its kidnappings, imprisonments and torture. One prisoner remembers it all too well.
In 1975, then-24-year-old Ana María Jiménez was held without charges at the Villa Grimaldi -- one of the 1,168 political detention centers in Chile, known for the widespread use of torture there. Her experience was recorded in a paper by Chilean cultural historian and music researcher Katia Chornik.
    One night, by her own account, musician Jiménez was forced to sing a song by Roberto Carlos, the Brazilian singer-songwriter who voiced his support for Pinochet during a 1975 performance. When she refused, she was forced to spend the entire night in the rain.
      An estimated 94% of prisoners detained during the Pinochet era were tortured, according to the 2004 Valech report into political imprisonment and torture by agents of the state between 1973 and 1990. Common methods included electric shock, beatings, mock executions and witnessing the torture of others.
      But for some -- like Jiménez -- there was one more element of torture: music, Chornik says.
      The Valech report says music was used as a background to torture in eight detention centers, but Chornik's work shows that the use of music was more widespread; she found evidence of its use in 30 centers.