In this paper, we examine a laser-based approach to remotely initiate, measure, and differentiate acoustic and vibrational emissions from trace quantities of explosive materials against their environment. Using a pulsed ultraviolet laser (266 nm), we induce a significant (>100  Pa) photoacoustic response from small quantities of military-grade explosives. The photoacoustic signal, with frequencies predominantly between 100 and 500 kHz, is detected remotely via a wideband laser Doppler vibrometer. This two-laser system can be used to rapidly detect and discriminate explosives from ordinary background materials, which have significantly weaker photoacoustic response. A 100  ng/cm2 limit of detection is estimated. Photoablation is proposed as the dominant mechanism for the large photoacoustic signals generated by explosives.