Unmotivated sound and the narrative of mobbing (part 2)

Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual.

—Alice though the looking glass

Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, I find myself in the most unusual of circumstances. I am a middle-aged woman and a legal tenant in northeast Seattle who, to the best of my understanding, is being stalked by real estate speculators and the nastiest of neighborhood watches! So let’s get on with it, shall we? Let’s document the crimes, the manner in which they occur, and how they escape detection.

Seattle Police Department, this one’s for you.


In Unmotivated sound and the narrative of mobbing (part 1), I talked about how the sense of sound and sound technologies were emphasized at the beginning of the mobbing. Around me in my neighborhood, microphones were deployed, or at least so I was told. Attempts were made to intimidate me into keeping my doors and windows shut; all the better to make surfaces to receive the projected harassment. Statements were deliberately said in public space when I was within earshot, derogatory comments made between titters betwixt gaggles of girlfriends of the nasty neighborhood watch lady, for example. The environment around me was altered, deliberately so, to ensure that specific sounds and utterances carried to me as though I was literally “captive” audience to a performance or to an orchestrated soundscape, a soundscape not unlike the soundtrack of a film.

In film, sound is motivated or it is environmental. The novice filmmaker is taught that sound, light, and other aspects of the film frame—the mise-en-scène—should be motivated, that is, they should make sense within the context of the film. Likewise, sound is synchronous or asynchronous. Without synchronous sound, film sound could not be motivated. Synchronous sound is the fundamental premise of sound for vérité, for reality. “Sync” gives the spectator the visual confirmation of truth. Techniques and technologies of sound such as stereo, foley, and advancements in sound and speaker technologies site the narrative and give it spatiality within the film frame.

Motivated sound is driven by the narrative. The source of the song in the soundtrack is revealed in the film frame by a tracking shot as coming from the radio of a passing car. The sound of an engine is revealed by a pan and tilt as a plane passing overhead. The dynamics of motivated sound most closely apply to narrative filmmaking, with its conventions of suspension of disbelief and narrative closure.

Film sound is artifice. Alongside motivated sound, environmental sound in film adds to the texture of the film, the lushness of the sound track. Environmental sound does not forward the plot per se, but it is critical in representing physical space and, thereby, in creating a sense of realism. To make recorded sound believable, traditional filmmakers record “room tone” to capture the ambient sound of a space. Room tone becomes the foundational layer in a sound track, representing “silence” in the scene. “Room tone,” a sound that is as close to silence as the human ear gets, situates us in the physical environment, in a moment of time. Room tone is layered with other sounds in a layered sound track to give the film, and the spectator, a sense of realism. Room tone is the fundamental environmental sound of narrative film.

Narrative closure is all about tidying up the end in telling a story. In typical Hollywood blockbusters, it’s about giving the spectator what he wants, not letting the bad guy win, or just making sure the (heterosexual) good guy gets the girl. The dramatic arc requires a denouement, the relief of tension that comes with resolution of plots and subplots. This drive for narrative closure comes out of a psychology of comfort; there is a natural cultural tendency to make stories out of life events, stories that tell us how to read them and hold their meaning. With the exception of disquieting periods in American cultural history when styles like noir or filmmakers like David Lynch or Peter Greenaway break through the conventions of mainstream cinema, American audiences have tended to reject the ambiguous ending.

The mise-en-scène of a well-constructed film is a powerful argument that compels the viewer to suspend disbelief and enter wholly into the narrative as an emotional subject. Motivated sound is one of the elements of mise-en-scène that exerts the greatest impact on the film’s “verisimilitude.”

Unmotivated sound and the narrative of real estate mobbing

Real estate mobbing has its own narrative, the hegemonic construction of a corrupt neighborhood watch and its cronies in real estate development and speculation over the legal tenants and residents they criminally “mob” from the neighborhood, histrionically portraying their victims as moral hazards and criminals all the while. Whether by the construction and transmission of sound or by its hearing, sound plays a crucial role in the narrative of real estate mobbing.

Mobbing works—at least it works until we begin to carefully listen—because it is sound that is unmotivated, and unexpected. Mobbing is a novel crime and even if it were restricted to methods no more sophisticated than a bunch of rock-throwing cowards holing up in the glass house next door and attempting to convince their victim by never-ending insults, taunts and accusations that he is a child molester by impulse if not by deed, the police would probably still be skeptical of victim reports. The police take reports on incidents that are seen and the court system relies on witness statements to establish “truth.”

Moreover, mobbers attempt to disguise their crimes as wholly civil when, instead, the aspects of the crime that are civil are effected as a shield from detection and to confuse. Even as real estate mobbers threaten to sue for valuation and make nuisance and out-and-out false complaints about you to city and police, they commit and hide felony crimes that should send them to prison for decades. The combination of the clandestine harassment of mobbing with networking, the Internet of Things, and other advances in sound and speaker technologies makes it increasingly difficult for the victim to survive the crime and to make the police believe it is real. The mobbers use of unmotivated sound undermines victim reports; the use of unmotivated sound undermines the verity of the victim’s narrative, the narrative of victimization. No one expects to be addressed from a public address system, by window panes, or over cell phones not taking a call.

When mobbers use unmotivated sound they are using techniques common in the film genre of horror as well as in the creation of haunted houses. These uses rely on the use of sound in unexpected ways from unexpected places. Horror and other fright films show the use of unmotivated sound to increase tension. In an interesting study, it was found that the emotional response of viewers to horror was not fear at all. Rather, it was discomfiture with the out-of-context events in the narrative. What is frightening is the unfamiliar, the unknown.

 Mobbing and environmental sound

The mobbers are very aware of environmental sound as well as of the directionality of sound. In film the directionality of sound is revealed by a shot showing the source of the sound, another shot showing how the sound affected the listener, or in the sound track by the response of the listener. The key skill of the mobber, enhanced by the technology of the mob be it radio, cell phone, public address system or parametric speaker, is to “mob” or harass her “target”—in this case I am referring to the stereotypically female identity of the “queen bee” who would mob or hire or enlist assignees to mob for her—in plain “view” without creating witnesses and in a manner that cannot be ignored by her target while evading detection by authorities. The mobber harasses through the interstices of day-to-day life, over unused interfaces for sound in when applications are sending sound out; over unlikely channels used by cell phone rings, public address systems, and system sounds; and as voices familiarized to their victims heard between and under dialog and other effects of sound in television and film.

On a simpler level, vis-à-vis the common mobber’s ploy of insulting their victim by muttering under their breath while they clutch a cell phone to their ear or look in the other direction, when the speaker is not regarding us we assume his speech is not for us, and even if as in a mobbing it has happened so many times that it is clear it is a tactic, in a civil courtroom the reporter would likely be discredited and the speaker given the benefit of the doubt under the law. Mobbing sound is sound that we ignore, at least, unless like victims of mobbing, we are acculturated to the insulting voice, the demanding voice, the threatening voice. Unless like the victim of mobbing, we know we are being bullied, and being stalked and monitored to make good the dirty work, the bad deeds of those criminal bullies and racketeers who would seek to bully someone from their home.

In my northeast neighborhood, the mobbers must be increasingly attentive to environmental sound and they must blend in with motivated sound as the homes around me change hands and new families move into them. This morning in particular, work is ongoing at the formerly abandoned house one door away that was recently put on the auction block by the King County Sheriff’s Office. And across the street at a new house now occupied by husband-and-wife doctors with a new baby, work continues to modify the premises for the new inhabitants. As builders and remodelers who may not be friendly to developers and neighborhood watches that would criminally harass residents out of their homes to take their properties move closer to me, it becomes increasingly obvious that the mobbers working from the houses on either side of me wait until some power equipment is turned on or demolition of some type is underway from one house or another, and then mob intensely until the din ends. They then stay quiet, listening until the next safe period to harass comes, the next period when the sounds of their slings and arrows won’t be heard by those who shouldn’t hear them, by anyone but me. This is a variation of the techniques they use to keep those who are close to me from hearing what I hear, which is to refrain from mobbing when others are so close that they would hear, in the checkout line, at the gas station; and to mob only when their voices, unfamiliar to others, will be ignored and perhaps not even perceived by those for whom they are not motivated sound, those for whom they are not part of the narrative.

An example of the use of environmental sound in mobbing would be, for example, when I went outside this afternoon to garden and suddenly the south mobbing house owner and his two pals returned outside and begin washing their vehicles, turning on country music and then turning it up. For them, this is motivated sound in that it forwards the narrative of mobbing. It is intended to ensure that I have no quiet and no quiet enjoyment of my legal contract to reside on a property that developers want.

The importance of environmental sound in the mobbers’ denial of quiet

The mobbers’ goal is encapsulated by the words of the north mobbing house owner who is ennobled by his profession and nothing more. It was he who once said to another mobber, and said it for me to overhear so that I would know what to expect if I remained in my home: “Don’t give her any quiet.” This intentional deprivation, which when forced on the victim twenty-four hours daily and within the supposed privacy of her home, may legally be “torture,” but that narrative, here in northeast Seattle, in the relatively liberal State of Washington and in the United States, is not yet a compelling one to authorities and as I try to report the crime, suspension of disbelief is hard to come by. For those who might walk by, although the loud crashes and bangs coming from the spiteful nasty neighborhood watch lady as she emerges from her house to play Roust the Renter (against the renters in the neighborhood that she herself is not making money off of), harassment is delivered outdoors either in a manner that is not noticeably different from the environmental sounds in any neighborhood of DIY home owners, or it is served up using the beam-focused sound of a parabolic or parametric speaker or coupled with monitoring of the street.

When the mobbers hide behind the walls of the residences next door, when they harass over public address systems, over speaker-enabled public address systems or over the cell phones of others, they gain an advantage not only from hijacking sound systems in a way that is unexpected, they use sound in a manner that is unmotivated. The victim or “target” of the mobbers learns, though the slings and arrows of voices to which he is familiarized, that the sound is for him. This means that for the victim, unlike for all others who are not acculturated to the threats and taunts, all others who know nothing about being continually stalked and harassed, all others who enjoy the privileges they are accorded by their own good-faith agreements to rent or purchase a home, for the victim mobbing sound is never environmental.

When mobbers mob in public, when mobbers mob within sight of their victims or within sight of others, they evade detection through avoiding the appearance not only of motivation but of synchronous sound. Synchronous sound is hearing the words someone speaks while seeing their lips speak them. Mobbers attempt to introduce doubt not only into what the victims knows, which is that they are criminals attempting to harass him from his home, but by muttering threats and insults under their breath while they look the other way or while they hold cell phones to their ears, they set up the victim to be discredited in court, to be ridiculed as paranoid, to have his very perceptions of reality challenged.

The victim is criminally and brutally harassed inside her very home in a manner that is inapposite to civil law, civil rights and even the Constitution, and she has no easy means of proving it. The crime of mobbing is designed to be impossible to prove and the mobbing criminals delight in taunting their victim; taunting is an important part of their strategy to hurt and perhaps even to “destroy” their victim and his life. Those who would mob or who would enlist mobbers to do their bidding enjoy cruelty in a manner that is psychopathic. Mobbing is not designed simply to forcibly evict, it is designed to crush and just the stress of being mobbed can probably kill. The brutality of the mob is probably something the mobbers feel is justified as a method of ensuring that there are no victim reports and that they and their clients evade legal liability for the crimes they commit. Just the same, to do what has been done to me over the thirty plus months, you’d have to be willing to commit manslaughter. From that standpoint, you might as well call mobbing attempted murder. Mobbing harassment may, in being harassment that seems to consist of endless repeating statements made even during sleep, or at least when the mobbers hear the sounds of the victim stirring from sleep, even be intended to brainwash.

The mobbers’ use of umotivated and environmental sound is a large part of the reason why one of the most effective tools to forensically capture mobbing is likely to be the acoustic camera, as I wrote in Fighting crime with acoustic detection systems. As Donald Lowe noted in History of Bourgeosis Perception (1983), vision prevails over other human senses; the same sound that is used to create an authentic feeling of physical space in film is trusted less than sight. The acoustic camera depicts an “image” of sound that visualizes its sources and direction, a crucial capability when it comes to beam-focused sources of sound like parametric speakers. Seeing will be believing in mobbing, when we can see its sound.

In part 3, we’ll talk about mobbing technologies and the “weapons” and tools—including drones—of unmotivated sound. Stay tuned. ▪


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