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  • Michael Spencer

Soundings: No Music Day!

By Michael Spencer

Did you know that today, the day before Patron Saint of Musicians’ St Cecilia’s Day, is ‘No Music Day’ in the UK?  According to the International Herald Tribune, for 24 hours:

  1. “iPods will be left at home,”

  2. “rock bands will not rock,”

  3. “choirboys will shut their mouths,”

  4. “jingles will not jangle.”

The plans for this dearth of music have been hatched by the former KLF band-member Bill Drummond.

I understand his intention and applaud, quietly, his move against the mass commoditisation of mindless music from the sausage machine that can be the music industry.  His view is reflected by many of the comments in a BBC survey about our listening habits. But is not the force of the argument really being pointed in the wrong direction? To encourage the ceasing of musical activity is to limit what is a basic human activity that pre-dates language and links societies.

What perhaps is a more appropriate target should be the vast aural tsunami of cheap downloads where music appears to be judged more in quantity than quality.  This ‘pile them high, sell them cheap’ mentality can only lead to devaluation of the place of music and musicians in society.  Dr. Adrian North commented on this in a research paper early in 2006.  For today’s young people is music not more of a life-style statement, sold to them from platforms that include the idolisation of role models who are known in the tabloids more for their non-musical exploits.

Criticism by the campaign is also levelled at piped music and the implicit lack of choice this entails.  There is a point here too, but how many of its critics are really complaining about the meagre selection policies of music suppliers who endeavour to create inoffensive soundtracks from a music library catalogued in ‘bpms’ (beats per minute) rather than from a knowledge of how to programme music effectively, including silence.   This is then pumped out over inadequate equipment.  Pipedown,  the campaign against piped music, rails against ‘the misuse of this in public areas’, and I would agree with them.  But in a former life, now long past, where I often supplied background acoustic music for public events, I received no such complaints.

Instead of a ‘No Music Day’ I would propose an ‘Unplug the Music Day’ where we turn off the power supply and listen to music in its acoustic format.  It may mean that we have to work harder with our ears but that is what they are there for rather than the of a garbage disposal unit for noise played at hearing threatening volumes.

One of our central tenets in Sound Strategies is ‘less sounds, but better quality’.  I wonder what St. Cecilia would say?

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