"Inmates were constantly blindfolded or forced to kneel and cover their eyes when guards entered their cells, so sound became the key sense by which they navigated and measured their environment – and therefore one of the chief tools with which the Forensic team could reconstruct the prison layout. Using a technique of “echo profiling”, sound artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan was able to determine the size of cells, stairwells and corridors by playing different reverberations and asking witnesses to match them with sounds they remembered hearing in the prison.
“Like a form of sonar, the sounds of the beatings illuminated the spaces around them,” says Abu Hamdan. “The prison is really an echo chamber: one person being tortured is like everyone being tortured, because the sound circulates throughout the space, through air vents and water pipes. You cannot escape it.”
“Ear-witness” testimonies have become a crucial form of evidence, he says, citing the recent examples of the shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, as well as the Oscar Pistorius case, where sound played a crucial role in unpicking what happened. “Unlike vision, sound leaks into other people’s spaces,” he adds. “People might not be facing an incident, but they can still have an acoustic experience of it.”
Deprived of their visual sense for months and years on end, the Saydnaya detainees developed an acute aural sensitivity, able to identify the different sounds of belts, electrical cables or broomsticks on flesh, and the difference between bodies being punched, kicked or beaten against the wall.