The Potency of Cheap Music

Noel Coward’s observation on the potency of cheap music came to mind on Saturday morning.  I’d arrived in the vicinity of my weekend art class half an hour early, so I went into a nearby Starbucks to kill a few moments out of the cold.

When I was in my last job I used to spend an hour or so each morning in one of the chain’s shops, not because I particularly like their coffee, but more because of the convenience of its location and the fact that the tables are the right height for writing to be comfortable.  It was a routine, but for only 10 months of the year.  Only 10 months, because I couldn’t stand to spend any time in the place in November and December when the air was filled with the most egregiously awful Christmas music imaginable.

Red Cup Alert!

I remembered this a few moments too late this weekend.  It was just as I paid for the coffee I didn’t really want, but which felt like the price of renting a table for the time I needed that the music began; something painful and twee about snow and ivy.  Then I noticed the stack of red paper cups, the signal I used to use as the warning to go further afield for sanctuary.  I’ll not make the same mistake again this season.

Music is such a critical element in creating a pleasing a comfortable environment, with both the power to attract and repel.  My aversion to the Starbucks Christmas soundtrack reminded me of how oppressed I felt by not being able to avoid the Muzak pumped into the air when I visited Disneyland a few years ago.  Everywhere we went from the park itself, to the shopping and restaurant area outside, to the bus stop, the bus and the lobby, lifts and corridors of the hotel.  Only in our room  could we enjoy silence.

Silence does seem to be an underrated virtue.  Most people appear to avoid the unpleasant noises in their environment by plugging themselves into their own music systems, unhitching the earphones only when there is no option but to talk to another person.  Some day we may all be deaf to the silences in between all the noise.

It occurs to me I’m not the first to notice the powerful oppression it is possible to exert through the imposition of unwelcome noise: Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-four dreams of being able to turn off the television screen in his flat, while the rules about a child’s place in society are fed to them through attachments to their heads while they sleep in Brave New World.  

But George Orwell had a totalitarian political system in mind…….

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  1. Jill Goldberg

     /  November 23, 2011

    I empathise deeply. At this time of year we get Boney M played everywhere on a ghastly never-ending track – too nauseating for words. My colleague has just told me that they will be performing in Cape Town next month. There is no end to the horror.
    It has also never failed to amaze me, after spending more than 41 Christmases in South Africa, that no-one here seems to care about the incongruity of reindeer and snow and other xmas-related symbols in a country known for its heat, sunshine, baked red earth and absence of holly and mistletoe. A cultural materialist would have a ball unpacking that entire ‘tradition’!

    • Oh No. Now I’ve got Boney M in my head…erk. It is very strange to see Santa all dressed up in cotton wool and fur in hot countries – one of the most incongruous places for me was to see a park in Merida in southern Mexico decked out with reindeer and tinsel in the palm trees. There’s definitely a PhD in there somewhere!

  2. Rowena,

    Heh, occasionally you write a post which has so much harmony with my thinking that I wonder menu are not of the same blood.

    Avoiding the racket is sooo hard nowadays!


  3. margaret nickels

     /  November 23, 2011

    Entirely agree , but the real triumph is to screen it out !


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