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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Shut up!

You know the scene: the person next to you, with their LOUD cell phone voice, mentioning personal details which you would rather not hear. I once overheard a man, while we were both standing in a store line - a very public place - ANNOUNCING his credit card number into his cell.

And you know the aural assault: elevator music everywhere, and equally annoying, the VERY LOUD music in bars and restaurants.

From Chandos Records e-newsletter, here's a wry Brit reaction to all this. (And in which I learned an amusing - and to me, new - word: naff. It's British slang for useless, tacky, tasteless, or unfashionable!)

Whilst a little stylish background music in an empty bar, early in the evening, can evoke a sophisticated, relaxing atmosphere, the quantity of naff piped music screaming at us today has got completely out of hand. Not only is there too much of it, it is usually ludicrously loud.

Try as one may to block as much of it out as possible, this creeping menace was forcibly brought home to me the other day when I walked into one of my favourite traditional London pubs, the Three Greyhounds in Old Compton Street. I was almost knocked unconscious by the sheer sonic force of the pulsating ‘music' which was causing people literally to shout at one another. And I do mean literally.

The Three Greyhounds was, until recently, a pleasant, bustling and attractive pub, with excellent beer and a relaxed atmosphere amongst its many good points. I asked the barman if the music is now always this loud, and he replied – with a look which implied both confusion and contempt for the question – ‘Yeah, great isn't it!'

No it bloody isn't. I ordered my drink (I had to repeat my order twice as he didn't hear me) and I then stood outside with my glass of wine (£4.10 for the honour), seething. It left me feeling utterly depressed at the way yet another decent pub has succumbed to this sonic horror.

The frustrating thing is that the customer has no say in the matter. I am sure that almost everyone in that pub would have preferred the music to be at least turned down (and I know, for I asked). And if it were turned off, people would hardly notice. You can see the truth of this when a piped CD comes to an end and the loudspeakers, joy of rare joys, fall silent: people simply go on chatting just as happily – if not happier – than before. No one ever says, ‘Oh no, the music has stopped!' Ever.

Background music is almost always unnecessary. It is the chit-chat of people that creates an ideal buzz and ambience. All that loud music does is raise stress levels. It is counter-productive to its intended effect, that of creating an atmosphere that stimulates sociability. Maybe ‘cool dude' barmen like to skip along to it but pubs should be designed for the pleasure of the customers, not the amusement of bored staff.

Let music assault the ears of those who enter dance clubs, but spare the rest of us – please! The same goes for the terrible music inflicted on us in aeroplanes, the visual pollution beaming busily from TVs in pubs (any pub with a TV screen should automatically be boycotted), radios turned to list pop stations in taxis, and that most vile of aural and general mental tortures: iPods and mobile phones used on trains and busses (in the latter case obligatory even if the journey is to last no more than five minutes).

These crimes incite one's most base and murderous instincts. Being forced to hear the monotonous tinny beat of crappy repetitive music emanating from an iPod, or the droning, vociferous voice of someone on the phone, can ruin an otherwise pleasant journey for the majority of the silent passengers. Why is it, by the way, that the people with the most gratingly awful voices are the ones who feel obliged to shout on their mobile phones to an entire captive train carriage audience? Are they completely unaware of the public spectacle they make of their private trivialities? No, obviously not. They should be told.

It is time the silent majority stops being so maddeningly meek, mild, and complacent (rationalising their own inaction in response to justified resentment as some sort of virtuous tolerance, a prime ‘British value' after all), take up arms and actively stamp out these crimes BY WHATEVER MEANS POSSIBLE. And I do mean stamp. These hideous blights of modern life must be obliterated. Give music back the respect it deserves, or get rid of it; let us at least try to make our world a more aurally civilised place.

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