The Last Word...

My neighbours across the way were playing very loud hip-hop on the weekend. Strangely enough, I did not mind, because 1) I like hip-hop and 2) I can never play anything that loud in my own apartment, as there is an unspoken tradition in my building of not making a noise. This I entirely agree with, being a noise-neurotic who rarely frequents cafés because of the unwanted music. That's all right, I can make coffee at home.

If I want a book, however, I have to go to a book store, which for those of us who are easily distracted is a taxing event because we're glancing at books, trying to get an idea of them, while all the time some pretentious music is imposing an 'atmosphere' on us. All right, the music isn't pretentious, but its use is. Mozart's piano concertos are there telling you, "I am cultivated!" Clearly it's a function of marketing, but it doesn't work for a neurotic pea- brain like me.

Speaking of atmosphere, the music playing in stores and cafés is usually not on for the ambiance so much as to keep the staff from dying of boredom: They are the people who really appreciate the piped music. I once had a job in a sandwich bar, where the owner had MTV playing constantly. When a song came on which the other staff liked, they would turn up the volume and forget to turn it back down afterwards.

In every store I enter here in Montreal, music is playing, some of it even broadcast to the trees and the sidewalk via exterior speakers. Sure, I really want to pay to sit and listen to Bryan Adams - or whomever, I'm not fussy about whom I dislike - with no choice at all. It's a bit like going to a concert and being force-fed throughout. Even if it's your favourite food, you don't necessarily want it.

Well, now I have proven myself to be an old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud, getting more and more like my parents, who used to put their noses inside pub doors in England and retreat as soon as they spotted a jukebox or detected the wail of an electric guitar. I used to think they were absurdly fussy; now I do the retreating myself.

The trouble is, there are so few of us sensitive creatures that we cannot really make a difference. Many people actually enjoy the noises oozing out of speakers everywhere and hum along when they recognize a song; but that's probably because they have been conditioned to do so as it's the fortieth time the song has been played on the radio that day. It's the repetitiveness of the commercial radio playlists that really drives you up the wall.

I had a job where the radio was on all day, because the others in the room liked it. As a concession to me, they played it at very low volume - but each song was distinctly recognizable and its whining guitar hook, irritating melody and noisome lyrics became nerve- racking when repeated every single day for months on end. It was like a subtle form of psychological torture. I took lots of bathroom breaks.

I wish everyone luck in their efforts to quieten their environment. If anyone has some work noise stories, I'd like to hear them - and commiserate.

-Cecilia Grayson, June 2001, <cgrayson@sprint.ca>

Right to Quiet Society Newsletter, Fall, 2001

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