Philosopher compares unwanted background music to pornography and smoking

Roger Scruton, the philosopher and composer, lambasted ubiquitous piped background music in a A Point of View on BBC Radio 4 on 13th November. He pointed out that such music is often not even made by human beings but by computers.  ‘The background sounds of modern life are therefore less and less human. Rhythm… has been largely replaced by electrical pulses, produced by a machine programmed to repeat itself ad infinitum, and to thrust its booming bass notes into the very bones of the victim. Whole areas of civic space in our society are now policed by this sound, which drives anybody with the slightest feeling for music to distraction, and ensures that for many of us a visit to the pub or a meal in a restaurant have lost their residual meaning. These are no longer social events, but experiments in endurance, as you shout at each other over the deadly noise.   There are two reasons why this vacuous music has flown into every public space. One is the vast change in the human ear brought about by the mass production of sound. The other is the failure of the law to protect us from the result. For our ancestors music was something that you sat down to listen to, or which you made for yourself. It was a ceremonial event, in which you participated, either as a passive listener or as an active performer. Either way you were giving and receiving life, sharing in something of great social significance.With the advent of … the radio and now the iPod, music is no longer something that you must make for yourself, nor is it something that you sit down to listen to. It follows you about wherever you go, and you switch it on as a background. It is not so much listened to as overheard.’

Many people share his feelings, especially about the lack of laws to protect innocent people in public places, although not everyone would follow him when he says ‘pop pollution has an effect on musical appreciation comparable to pornography’s on sex – all that is beautiful, special and full of love is replaced by a grinding mechanism.’ (But Scruton does not damn all rock music, praising Electrica for example.)

On a positive note, he applauds attempts to teach young people classical music (something threatened by cuts in funding that encourage a ‘Gradgrind’ approach to education, ignoring the real yet unquantifiable benefits of the humanities). By getting children and teenagers to learn an instrument or just sing together, they can rediscover the real value of music and silence and so their own imperilled humanity.


Heart patients healthier without bedside music/TV

Having bedside television or music can damage the recovery of patients who have recently had open-heart surgery, according to a report in the European Journal of Cardio-thoracic Surgery vol. 34 pp1022—1026. It reports that a growing ‘number of acute hospitals in the UK have been providing patients with Bedside Entertainment Services (BES) since 1995.’  100  patients requiring cardiac surgery were randomly chosen to have access to BES  or not. Pedometers were used to quantify postoperative physical activity for 5 days. On average, patients without BES walked more than those with BES. This difference ranged between 192 and 609 steps in favour of the first group for each individual postoperative day. Patients with no access to BES were 84% more likely  to walk higher number of steps than patients with access to BES.’  Postoperative exercise is considered essential for patients recovering from such operations to avoid possibly fatal complications.

Yet further evidence that nonstop television and background music in hospitals can damage patients’ health!

Acoustic marmite in the British Museum? No thanks! say visitors – and The Times

The ‘Celtic music’ piped around the Celts: Art and Identity exhibition in the British Museum has been annoying visitors. One found the music ‘excruciating'; another advised people to take earplugs. Luke Turner, editor of The Quietus, an online magazine about music, said the music detracted from an otherwise enjoyable experience. ‘[It] felt like a real cliché of what you’d imagine Celtic music to be… like a “Celtic Moods” CD.’  The Times  devoted a leader (16 October) to  it, saying that ‘if people want music in museums let them plug it into their own ears.’  This is the first time a major national newspaper has discussed background music in a leader.

Dr Julia Farley, the exhibition’s curator, said she wanted to destroy any air of reverent silence, but she admitted the ‘Celtic music’ was a ‘bit of a marmite thing‘ i.e. you love it or loathe it. Unwittingly, she has revealed the misconception underlying most unwanted piped music. For while no one is ever actually forced to eat marmite in a restaurant (or anywhere else), far too often we are are forced to listen to music we hate. The final effects – irritation and alienation – are the exact opposite  of what the proponents of background music generally claim.

Action on Hearing Loss starts survey on noise in pubs, cafés, restaurants

Action on Hearing Loss (aka the RNID)  is starting a survey on what people really feel about noise of all sorts – especially piped music – in pubs, cafés and restaurants. This is the first time they have addressed the issue so directly and is partly thanks to efforts by Pipedowners, in Scotland and in England.

Do take part! It requires only a couple of minutes to fill the form in and you can remain anonymous if you wish

John Humphrys explodes at non-stop television in hospital!

John Humphrys has become the latest – and most famous and perhaps most furious – person to be maddened by inescapable television blaring away in hospitals. While waiting for an Outpatients’ appointment, he said, ‘a nurse arrived, a bouncy lady who stood for a moment gazing at us and announced: “You look as if you need cheering up!” So she turned on the television, cranked up the volume and marched off again…. A torrent of brain dead game shows assaulted us, making  it impossible to concentrate on anything or even just sit there and think. So I got up and switched it off, slightly nervous that I’d upset the others. Quite the opposite. No one said anything but a few gave me a small nod of approval.’

All of which serves to reinforce the need for legislation to ban piped music and television in hospitals (those who want either can listen through headphones.) So do write to you MP about this (see earlier posting). Do not be put off by replies from MPs or ministers that such matters are the responsibility of the local NHS Trust, not suitable for parliamentary legislation. This is a cop-out by a government still indifferent to the problems of piped music, indeed of noise in general. Parliaments (in Westminster or Holyrood) legislate on almost any aspect of life when they want to.  


Background music can endanger surgical operations

It is well known that some surgeons play music (which will be of their choice but not possibly of rest of their team) during operations. Now a study suggests this may affect the skills of their surgical teams. Using an analysis of video footage from 20 operations, a report in the Journal of Advanced Nursing of 5 August 2015 of a UK study shows ‘that some operating theatre teams are negatively affected by background music during surgery. Communication within the theatre team can be impaired when music is playing… requests from a surgeon to a nurse for instruments or supplies were often repeated and there was qualitative evidence of frustration or tension within some teams.’ Conversely,  new reports suggest that patients to whom music is played before and after operations may feel less pain and recover better. The vital point here, easily overlooked, is that patients may well find music of their own choice and taste soothing. But music they do not like or want will have the opposite effect. As musical tastes are more varied than they have ever been, freedom to choose the type of music (if any) they listen to is the issue. At present, that freedom is far too often lacking in hospitals.

Pipedown pushes for legislation to ban hospital piped music

Inside the new House of Commons, with its many freshly elected MPs,  Pipedown hopes to get a Private Member’s Bill to ban unwanted background music and television in hospitals. Such a bill is badly needed to save the sanity of people who can suffer horribly from inescapable music/television in hospitals. (See the booklet Whose Choice is it Anyway? 2012, for details of their torment. Copies as pdfs available free to members from Pipedown). Unlike in shops, hotels, restaurants etc, people seldom have much real choice when it comes to being in hospital. They are also often at their most vulnerable. Recognising these special factors, two people have attempted to introduce  Private Member’s Bills: Robert Key, then MP for Salisbury, in the House of Commons and Tim Beaumont, the only Green Party peer, in the House of Lords. Neither succeeded but they pioneered the idea that piped music is an issue on which legislation is needed.

Yet it remains an idea that ministers and civil servants are unwilling to accept. Such official reluctance does not mean that all MPs are indifferent or hostile to the concept – some may be as enthusiastic as Robert Key was, others will be broadly sympathetic.  As MPs have no way of knowing  what concerns their constituents unless they are told, it is up to everyone annoyed by unwanted music to let their MP know.

Write or email your MPs, suggesting they support – or even better, propose – a Private Member’s Bill to ban piped music and also television which, blaring away nonstop, can turn any ward into acoustic hell. Patients who wish to listen to television or their own music, as many do, could do so through headphones, so they would not suffer any deprivation.

When enough MPs have been alerted, and their responses collated (and sent on to Pipedown), we aim to to start intensive lobbying inside the Palace of Westminster itself.

At present, the government line is that whether or not a hospital has background music or television is solely a matter for the local NHS trust, and so no concern of central government. This is a mere smokescreen to disguise its lack of interest. The central government intervenes in many aspects of national life, including health, when it wants to. We need to alert enough MPs that this is a genuine and important health issue (and not just a load of old codgers moaning)  so that the message reaches Jeremy Hunt at the Department of Health. He has a constituency to hang on to also. 

So do write to your MP, whether he/she is newly elected or not – and whether or not you are actually a member of Pipedown.


Which? magazine publishes list of muzac-infested shops

Following its long-running debate on piped music in shops (see, Which? magazine has published a short piece on the subject.

No surprise to see that the Co-op is named as the worst-offending supermarket chain, with Marks & Spencer as the worst department store.    (Not by coincidence, both have been doing badly in recent years.)  These findings echo those from our Quiet Corners’ Competition (see earlier entry.)

Which? magazine does not, however, suggest doing more than asking for the music to be turned down. It should be starting/leading a campaign to roll back the music.

Nicola Benedetti protests against forced music on planes

Nicola Benedetti, the award-winning violinist, has just tweeted to her followers: “Why is it necessary to subject us all to loud pop music on the plane? It’s like being forced to eat something you don’t want” She was travelling with Vueling, a Spanish airline (you have been warned!)  Vueling replied, saying the music was supposed to be enjoyable. Nicola thanked them for their reply but went on to say, “Quiet is a rare and precious thing these days. I think many of us would enjoy that more”. In July 2014 Nicola, who is 28, went into the Top Twenty of the Top of the Pops with her recording of Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, written in 1880.