People go to gyms and to swimming pools for their health’s sake, to boost their physical and mental well-being. So it seems perverse if not self-defeating that many gyms and pools are filled with pounding non-stop music. Some people like – even need – this music to get them going, but for others it is an acoustic nightmare, causing real stress. In gyms, inescapable piped music is totally unnecessary. Anyone can bring in their own personal choice of music – which may differ totally from that of their neighbour’s in the gym – and listen to it while pounding away at the machines. Those who don’t want any music should be able to work out in peace.
For swimming pools, the problem is rather different, for few personal music systems are waterproof at present. But all pools should instead offer well advertised quiet periods when those who hate piped music can come and swim in peace.
So Pipedown is holding a competition to find quiet gyms and pools across the UK. Do send in suggestions. When enough have been collected, we shall announce a winner to an expectant world. (If it turns out that there are no quiet gyms or pools, we shall announce that too.)
Kenneth Close is starting up a local group based in Halifax (in Yorkshire, not Canada NB.) Members living in or anywhere near Halifax who are interested can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org (Membership of the group is of course free to Pipedowners.) Yorkshire Pipedowners: join Kenneth Close and start rolling back piped music in Yorks!
And Phil Fairclough who lives near Telford in Shropshire is also interested in getting a local group up and running. Contact him at email@example.com if you live in or near Shropshire.
As the amazing progress of the Quiet Edinburgh & Glasgow group in recent years shows, local groups can make a real impact. They allow members to meet (even if only electronically), discuss local issues and take local action – something Pipedown UK itself cannot do. By meeting and talking to other Pipedowners living nearby, members realise they are not lone voices but make up a large section of the general population maddened by piped music. Mutual encouragement and support is far more feasible at local, rather than national, level.
Pipedown UK frequently gets despairing requests from people in the USA asking if there is an American chapter (sister group) of Pipedown in the US. There currently is not but there could be and should be! Pipedown in Britain was founded by ordinary individuals enraged by the unwanted spread of piped music, not by an act of God (or Parliament). The same happened in Germany, where Pipedown Deutschland is now the second largest national Pipedown. The problem of inescapable canned music is at least as bad in America as in Britain or Germany.
Charles Wetherbee, the renowned violinist, is considering co-founding Pipedown USA. If you too hate piped music, contact him firstname.lastname@example.org
Pipedown UK is very happy to give advice and encouragement to sister groups but cannot fight battles in countries thousands of miles away where problems may be quite different. (The situation in Spain, where Comer sin Ruida, or Dining without Noise, has been recently founded, differs from that in Britain, for example.)
The Bullring in Birmingham, home to one of Britain’s largest shopping malls, has been experimenting with quieter music. For years pounding pop music has filled almost every corner and shoppers, of all ages and tastes, have had to tolerate it or leave. Now an experiment by Hammerson, which runs several shopping malls across Britain and is thinking of phasing out music because of its effect on shoppers, has shown that replacing clamourous loud music with softer ambient music – not blended ‘muzak’ but a sound closer to the sea – influences shoppers positively. They move less rapidly and seem to spend more. The results are still tentative but suggest that less noise equals more sales, at least initially. Pipedowners might prefer no background music at all but this sea music is better than, say, canned Vivaldi and certainly an improvement. But it would be interesting to see the effects of no music at all. Julian Treasure, chairman of the Sound Agency, is involved in the experiment.
Thanks in part to pressure from Pipedowners and in part to the preferences of James Daunt its head, the booksellers Waterstones is now muzac-free in 205 of its 287 branches. James Daunt wants each Waterstones branch to decide its own policies, so he only encourages managers to drop the music, he does not demand. However, there has been the odd negative reaction to the new Quiet Shopping policy. Some shoppers have reportedly complained about the lack of canned music in their shops, normally when the branch in question is in a shopping mall already filled with music. One branch in Birmingham has recently reinstated piped music, perhaps as a result. To encourage Waterstones to persist with their quiet policy, congratulate the staff in each quiet branch and hand over a blue card saying ‘Thank you for not having music.’ (Available free to members for an SAE.) Better still, write to James Daunt himself to urge him to continue his no-muzac policy and to congratulate him on revitalising Waterstones at email@example.com
Intrusive background piped music is a problem plaguing diners around the world, so the founding of a similar group in Spain is welcome news. Svante Borjesson has started a Madrid-based group, Comer Sin Ruido (eating without noise) at http://www.comersinruido.org/ He is concerned with all types of noise – a problem aggravated by the ‘hard surfaces’ favoured by too many designers at present, which echo or amplify background noises. He includes unwanted background music among the things that can wreck enjoyment of a meal. The site has a list of about 20 quiet restaurants around Spain, some with Michelin stars.
Anyone looking for, or knowing of, a quiet place to eat in Spain can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.