Quiet revolution

It’s hard to hear what’s going on amidst the hubbub and engine chug, and computer fan whirr and traffic drone. You have to walk far from roads to properly hear Led Zeppelin’s bustle in the hedgerow. Or focus to make out the tiny regular wheezing breathing of a sleeping baby.

It’s unlikely you’ll ever have the chance to build up from the sound of silence – more likely you’ll be struggling to strip away sticky layers of muzak to feel what lies beneath.

It reminds me of what my mate Chen noticed when he first came to London – an all-pervasive sickly sour reek of off milk, from all the dairy products people in England eat. He’d just come from less crowded drier northern Zambia. I presume he’s used to it by now. (I hope he was before he encountered my cheese-guzzling gob.)

Well, someone’s had enough of this audio goo and he’s making a fuss.

He’s Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who is to score some of the music for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. He says piped muzak is an “invasion of privacy” and is killing our capacity to enjoy peace and silence.

It’s certainly killing the opportunity anyway.

So SPMD, who was made Master of Queen’s Music in 2004, has joined campaign group Pipedown. He wants muzak banned from restaurants, shops and on telephones while callers are waiting.

Apparently he felt himself driven out of a shop, unable to bring himself to spend a £100 voucher, because of the incessant sonic stupefaction.
I’m not obsessive about quiet. I revel in the hustle and noisy bustle of busy cities like Cairo. Sometimes I interact. Sometimes I zen myself out to observe as if from afar. But the conversational and physical bump and jabber is the essence of life. I no more want that damped down and smoothed into homogeneity than I want the calm quiet moment plugged and filled either.

If I hear piped music being played to supposedly soothe me as I wait on the phone I put the receiver down. All this piped music is so you buy lots of stupid things you don’t need. I am sure if you took away muzak out of shops people would not be in so much debt.

We should all give peace a chance and we need more of it in our lives, not less. There is no escape and we need to fight back against it.

According to Independent columnist Terence Blacker, even the best music, when blandified into aural Prozac and looped through lifts, changing rooms becomes irritating. Do I agree? I think so. I think I’d find it offensive to have the Pogues burbling away at me to put me in the mood to buy a pair of socks. That’s not because I don’t like them – I do. Very much. And if they were there in person playing at the bottom of the escalator… Well, I wouldn’t get much else done.

So buskers in the London Underground I (mostly) love. Piped music I’d abhor. (If you’re lucky you might get to hear David O’Connell in some deep tunnel. He’s a lovely chap and  narrates and plays in the film at the bottom.)

As Pipedown supporter Stephen Fry puts it: “Piped water, piped oil, piped gas – but never piped music.” And if this quiet revolution seems a hopeless cause, here’s something to give you heart. Joanna Lumley‘s on board. She sorted the Gurkhas out, so who knows…



Filed under life, Music

5 responses to “Quiet revolution

  1. I don’t object to piped music per se; my problem is that the music they choose to pipe is so vile. Which is odd, because piped music is chosen on the same basis as the selection of films shown on long-haul flights, a desire to offend as few customers as possible. Unfortunately, such bland pap – marimba renditions of Coldplay, inane romcoms starring Jennifer Aniston – is the sort of thing that offends me the most.

    Would Peter Maxwell Davies be so upset if it was his own music serenading him as he tried to exchange some unwanted tea towels in John Lewis?

  2. Dazed and Confused on The Stairway to Heaven.

  3. Much of the time the music is too loud and not appropriate for the setting.

    If you have a digital landline phone there is problem if you’re put on hold and don’t have music. The call will be dropped, much like a cell phone.

  4. Barbara Rodgers

    Don’t care for piped music, especially at Christmas time… (We call it doctor’s office music or elevator music – horrible being trapped in an elevator with it!) And I won’t stand for it when put on hold. Would rather drive over to the office and make the appointment in person! But I’m very picky about my music.

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