Turning music into pulp

I really love music. Truly. I swear. Yet these days when I hear music, and almost any music, I often want to scream. Music is everywhere, coming from loudspeakers in the department store, in the hotel lobby, in the restaurant, on the street, in airplanes, in lifts (elevators). And you cannot hope to go to any kind of more upmarket reception without finding a string quartet, or harpist, or someone with an acoustic guitar.

What is wrong with this? What is wrong is that this is not music for anyone’s enjoyment. Nobody stops to listen. It is pure background noise. The composer and the performer are not celebrated, they are humiliated. The harpist plays, but has no hope of being heard above the noise of conversation. The PA system belts out a song by some 1970s band but if you asked a passer-by whether they had even noticed it was being played, the answer would probably be no.

Music needs to be appreciated, enjoyed, understood, celebrated. Instead it is destroyed. So let us have it where it is listened to, and for heaven’s sake turn it off where it is just there to cover up the silence – the silence we appear to fear so much.

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14 Comments on “Turning music into pulp”

  1. Wendymr Says:

    Could be worse. The building next to the one where I work uses music as a deterrent!

    The building’s the city’s social welfare office, and for a long time they had a problem with young adults and teenagers hanging around by the back entrance smoking and generally passing the time of day (or whatever these young ‘uns were up to). So the City set up speakers, and now classical music is broadcast outside the entrance during business hours, just loudly enough that you can hear it when you’re within about 20 feet of the doors. And, sure enough, the kids have found somewhere else to hang out. Some of them outside my building’s stairwell exit…

  2. Vincent Says:

    Yeah, there’s that. But how many places can a harpest play where people will pay.

  3. Jo McCafferty Says:


    Sometimes music can turn up in places where it might not necessarily be appreciated but sometimes it is worth stopping to listen. Pap churned out in shopping centres is annoying, but I do like (soft) music in restaurants, it allows people to feel they can talk without feeling like they are being overheard. Why they have music in lifts is beyond me.
    I do tend to listen to live musicians in “upmarket receptions” but then I am a musician so am probably just subconciously scoping out the competition ;0)

  4. no-name Says:

    I like silence. Unfortunately, Dublin is an unpleasant place for people who don’t want their brains blown out by music. Anybody who has ever walked down Wicklow Street will know, for example, that a record shop there has speakers out on the street which blast music throughout the working day, which is so loud that it can sometimes be heard two blocks away. You can’t hear yourself think in most of the clothes shops and many restaurants have the “policy” of not playing music below a certain (very loud) level. In fact, I often ask the staff in restaurants to turn down the music only to be met with a bewildered look. Taxis are the same…the drivers think that once you hire the car that they have the right to listen to their music…many have refused to turn their radio off! Especially annoying are the people on the train who play the music in their headphones such that it is audible many seats away. What sort of nonsense is this? I don’t know a single person who enjoys it. Of course, Ireland doesn’t really have noise pollution laws so people can do what they want.

    • Jo McCafferty Says:

      Oooh over loud headphone music drives me crazy, especially on the bus where there is an enormous sign asking you to keep it down!

      • no-name Says:

        Lucky you — the bus I sometimes have to take blasts its own music. I wrote to the bus company and advised that anybody who wanted to listen to music these days had their own ipods, etc., and suggested that it wasn’t really necessary to even have a sound system on a bus. The reply? “Nobody else has complained.” I was forced into buying an ipod especially for the bus…if I have to listen to music at least let it be my choice.

        • Jo McCafferty Says:

          That’s mad! The real surprise is that no one bothers to complain. Or maybe it isn’t that surprising these days.

  5. brian t Says:

    I generally agree, but with one exception: restaurants. I prefer to have some quiet music on to mask the sounds of other people chomping, slurping and clattering!

    One person who agrees with you is musician Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame, who regularly moans about “noise pollution units” in cafes and other public places. Example: http://www.dgmlive.com/diaries.htm?diarist=3&entry=1896

    • no-name Says:

      Actually, I agree that there should be some *quiet* music on in restaurants for the reasons you mention, my issue is that, in Dublin, at least, the music is often is often so loud that you can’t have a decent conversation with the person at the other side of your own table!

  6. Regina Says:

    For those interested (or about to scream), I recommend Tia de Nora’s book on Music in Everyday Life. Of course Dublin is not unique in its (mis)use of music to convey meaning, or just noise—elsewhere the clothing retail sector’s use of low lights and loud music in the form of carefully controlled playlists and sound levels used to irk me a lot during those years when my teenage children coveted a particular N. American brand of tee-shirt. But top of my current list of aural torture is Ryanair’s arrival music—that silly bugle theme that seems to be ever so smug, though it does bring a touch of humour and comic relief for nervous passengers.

    The post is an interesting one for music education though. The narrative used to be about ‘preservation of culture’ and ‘handing it on’….perhaps it should be reversed to ‘preserving your aural space’?

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