'Sound has always saved me': New Dubai initiative wants to heal 'sonic trauma' for PTSD victims

The project is being endorsed by none other than Ahmad Haffar, also known as the 'voice of Dubai'


Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Tue 30 Jan 2024, 6:15 AM

Last updated: Tue 30 Jan 2024, 10:57 PM

He was only 18 years old when photojournalist Patrick Baz began covering war. A few years into capturing shots from conflict zones, he realised he was suffering from some kind of ‘sonic trauma’. For example, the sound of ambulance would trigger in him memories of war sirens in Baghdad.

Sound is a major trigger point for those who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The way it impacts your daily life is when everyday sounds (honking, fireworks, etc) transport you back to that painful moment you have been running away from. The healing for such affliction, however, is rooted in the very sound that triggers you. A brand new project, Sound Affects, is a collection of 27 sounds created from everyday items. From fireworks to helicopter ripping to an ambulance siren — everything has been created using everyday objects. These are incidentally same sounds that many in conflict zones may find haunting. And yet the proceeds from the sales of these sounds are meant to go to NGOs who work with those with PTSD.

Sound Affects, which is a Dubai-based initiative and is a result of collaboration between Saatchi & Saatchi Middle East, Sixieme Son and Mindloop, is the world’s first sound library for the victims of PTSD, and is actively endorsed by the ‘voice of Dubai’ Ahmad Haffar, who also happens to be the managing partner and co-owner of Mindloop Studios.

While the project has several stakeholders, Haffar’s involvement is naturally drawing maximum attention because his is a voice that reaches every household in Dubai. Be it the Dubai Metro or Expo 2020, Etisalat or Emirates Airline, Haffar has lent his voice to some of the most prestigious projects that have come to be associated with Dubai. In a nutshell, his is a voice of reassurance. Naturally then, as we chat with him about Sound Affects, we ask what led him to lend his support to this initiative. “My voice has been all over Dubai. I have lent it to brands who want a voice that has power and gravitas. Which is also the reason why I wanted to focus on PTSD, which is something even I have.”

Haffar’s PTSD is rooted in his formative years spent in Lebanon. He recalls a time in his childhood when he would play ‘Fireworks or Gunshots’. “I lived in Tripoli. Whenever we would hear some sounds, we would have a bet on whether it was a firework or gunshot, and then run to the balcony to find out what it really was,” says Haffar. “We even had people who would move out of their apartments and drop a fridge or some such item, and it would make us think as though a bomb is about to explode.”

It is in Haffar’s own experience of aural trauma that one understands the need and urgency of something like Sound Affects, especially during a time like this when it is difficult to turn your gaze away from the sight of a frightened child in Gaza on social media or TV channels. To those who are not part of such living hells, it is difficult to imagine what narrow escape from imminent death really looks like. To give us a perspective, Haffar cites an example of a time in 2012 when he visited a café with a friend. “I was at a café with my friend and we had just left its premises. Then all of a sudden, I realised that I had forgotten my wallet in the café, and so both of us decided to head back to collect it. That’s when a bomb exploded in an area that was a minute away from the café. Had I not forgotten my wallet, I would have died that day.”

That pretty much explains Haffar’s personal investment in this project. He likens Sound Affects to the behavioural therapists he has at the school he runs for children who want to be trained in voiceovers. “The therapist’s job is to observe and assess individual personalities that can help empower their voices. Sound Affects is something like that, except it works at a much deeper level,” he says.

So how will Sound Affects contribute to the lives of those suffering from PTSD? Many production houses involved in filming different projects usually buy sounds from sound companies and other sources. With Sound Affects authentically replicating these sounds through Foley technique (a unique sound effect technique that involves creating and performing everyday sounds, which is more challenging than creating sounds digitally), production houses can buy these sounds directly from the library, the proceeds of which will be donated to NGOs working with victims of PTSD.

“We have reproduced these sounds through a concept called Foley technique, which is often used in Hollywood. For example, did you know that when you break a celery in front of a microphone, it would sound as though you are breaking human bones? The Foley technique is about utilising the sound of one object for a different purpose.”

Looking at the scope of the campaign, one wonders if the events of Gaza led to this initiative. Haffar says if the campaign is resonating, it is probably because we are living at a time when conflict has become contemporary reality. It’s only fair then that the proceeds go to those whose lives are turned upside down by wars and other forms of trauma.

The catchline “royalty rights for human rights” says it all. “Music has royalties. When Michael Jackson sold 50 million records, he made certain money. That’s not just from sales but also from royalties. I lend my voice to a lot of brands and still get royalties even though I did the work years ago. The power of royalty is power of continuity. And that’s why we are saying ‘royalty rights are for human rights’. The more people download these sounds the more they are helping other people. Sound has always saved me,” he says, referring to a time when he was in coma following an accident. “And now I hope it saves everyone.”



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