Two musical moments on the edge: At a black site in Thailand, Abu Zubaydah, the first high-value detainee in the “Global War on Terror,” is placed inside a confinement box less than three feet square. All the while, music—from death metal to Barney the Purple Dinosaur’s “I Love You”—blasts unpredictably, unrelentingly. Not only in the box but day and night Zubaydah was subjected to a musical assault that was inescapable, nailing him to an existential hell with no future, no past. Ama, an elderly fishmonger, regularly gets possessed by the mother of a pantheon of deities from northern Ghana. At shrine celebrations, she is no longer herself but a dancing god being praised by drum and song. As long as the mother is there, Ama is away. One musical experience is the ontological inversion of the other. For the Brekete shrines of the Guinea Coast, musical experiences are energy producing, life affirming, a being-with-others through the sacrifice of the one possessed. In detention cells, whether in Thailand or in Guantánamo Bay, they are life diminishing, isolating, sacrificial, though not a sacrifice of the sacred kind. American torture and African trance, as delimited here, meet at the boundaries of musical experience and in so doing refract each other in a mirrored play, a ring dance of being-there and being-away. What follows is a talk of extremes, of musical experience at the margins, on the edge, limit experiences where selves are torn asunder and thrust into musical existences not of their own making.

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