A great article by Robert Barry has appeared in The Quietus, titled ‘Song to the Siren: Pop Culture & the Warning Klaxon’. It concerns the use of alarms in popular and classical music, a subject that I’ve long been interested in, hence Barry references my essay ‘Alarms on Record’, which appeared in the journal Static back in 2007.
Barry’s article is at its most interesting when contemplating the appropriation and re-appropriation of police alarms. Did ravers co-opt and disarm this sonic symbol of oppression by turning it into a joyous rush in their tracks? Or is it the case that ‘our physiologies never habituate. No matter how thoroughly our conscious minds might know that a loud siren is rushing by is not coming for us, our blood pressure still spikes, our pupils still dilate, and our hair sells still flatten and twist’, particularly as the alarms of authority are getting louder and more pin-pointed.I once played a whole set of records with alarms in, DJing at the Tate Gallery in London of all places, and the effect of these sirens was certainly one of increasing menace. At the start of the evening people were barely noticing the fact that there were alarms in each track, but by the end there was the ‘creeping ambiance of low-level panic’ that Barry describes. It was ‘Dominator’ by Human Resource that proved to be the turning point. Security moved in and told me that the pictures were being damaged by its maddening clangour.