Right to Quiet Society Noiseletter
Spring 2009 - page 5

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Memories of George Orwell's 1984

As I stood with my coffee and muffin in McDonald’s restaurant in the West Vancouver Park Royal Shopping Centre, my eyes scanned the ceiling for a section without a music speaker. It was very discouraging. The management has pretty well ensured that—sit where you will—there is no escaping the loud music package targeted for their customers.

Slipping into a small table away from the noisiest congestion at the order counter, I ruefully reflected that I was rather like the anti‑hero, Winston Smith in George Orwell’s futuristic novel “1984.” He had been vainly trying for some time to elude the television monitor, placed in every home in the country by the government, Big Brother. This monitor both tracked people’s movements and issued propaganda messages. Eventually, Winston learned how to manoeuvre himself, with great difficulty, into a corner of his flat so that he was out of its range.

Of course, intrusive music is not limited to cheap, casual restaurants. In the March 2009 issue of “Zoomer” magazine, Arthur Black wrote a very critical, relevant article called “Tonight’s Special: A little Peace and Quiet.” He describes an evening out “at a swanky eatery“ with all the accoutrements of fine dining. However, the evening was spoilt by “the infernal noise level in the place.” The usual restaurant sounds were grossly enhanced by a soundtrack thumping from the restaurant speakers. Like most of the patrons, he wanted to have a pleasant conversation with his dinner companion. Unfortunately, that was impossible.

Today’s world is rapidly becoming an Orwellian world. Big Brother in Orwell’s novel watched and controlled all of its citizens, depriving them of liberty and individual thought through propaganda; similarly, we are being bombarded with omnipresent “muzak” driven by huge commercial interests without our consent.

Although many people have been brainwashed into thinking that it must fill all their waking hours, there are massive numbers who feel powerless and resign themselves to it. Still, capitulation is not the answer. For example, the owner of the hairdressing salon which I patronize now routinely turns down the salon’s radio when I arrive. After having mentioned my objection to the excessive volume, she is happy to oblige me. In fact, she says, “I wish more of my customers were like you,” since she herself gets headaches from the loud music.

Each person can seize the opportunity to effect change wherever possible. Remember the Chinese philosopher who declared that the journey of a thousand miles “starts from where one stands.”

—By Carole A. Martyn

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Crash of Muzak - inventor of elevator music bankrupt

New York-Hamburg - Piped down for good: The company Muzak is bankrupt. 75 years ago Americans brought at-mosphere to supermarkets and hotels with their elevator music. The irrelevant accompanying tunes were meant to evoke a pleasant mood in customers and seduce them to buy; music everywhere at all times.

What now-a-days appears to be normal and, at times, a nuisance, was an “innovation” some 75 years ago. When George Owen Squier established his company Muzak in the USA, the pace in supermarkets and hotels was still easy going. His idea to have music playing everywhere to produce an animating atmosphere where in reality there isn’t any, was well received.

Not much later, music was pouring out of loudspeakers everywhere. The music, especially renowned classical songs and hits, newly arranged and orchestrated, gradu-ally conquered ever more spheres of public life: Super-markets, hotel lobbies, department stores, airports, ele-vators etc. The accompanying background music, named after the company of the inventor, thus became a symbol of modernity.


In all of that, attention was payed to the listeners’ coziness while they were sprinkled with muzak. The pieces were kept as simple as possible: Well known melodies evoke intimacy, rhythmic variations like waltzes, fox or light sam-ba are supposed to stimulate, and a song was never faster than 70 beats per minute - much like the human pulse; all that to improve shopping behaviour and mood.

Now the company is bankrupt. It informed in early Febru-ary that due to an overwhelming dept load Muzak applied for bankruptcy protection under the US insolvency right. However, Muzak boss Stephen Villa felt confident that he could restore the company. If his optimism has any merit is doubtful. It is unclear amongst scientists if background music really leads to increased consumption.



On December 31, 2007, at midnight Central European Standard Time, a friend called us from Quedlinburg (former East Germany) and held her phone to the open window. What we heard reminded us of the terrifying noise of a fierce air-raid and gun battle during World War II. From other German cities we heard reports of police having to take scared dogs from freeways, that were apparently trying to run from the frightening noise meant to usher in a new year.

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