Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sound of Musak

One of my least favorite parts about the holiday season is the inescapable holiday music in public spaces, especially in Penn Station. The "background music" in Penn is always bothersome to me, but during the holidays it seems like they turn it up even louder.

What I completely don't understand is what is wrong with having no music at all. It's a train station, not a cocktail party. If anyone wants to listen to music, there are plenty of ways to hear your own through headphones. It's like we have an unnatural aversion to silence, or simply hearing ambient noise.

One thing Evelyn Glennie demonstrates in her documentary ("Touch the Sound" - Oct. 31, 2011) ambient sound can be interesting and beautiful in its own right. It's also so much more authentic than having someone else's music forced through your ears. I imagine it's worse if you are a fan of Baroque music to be hearing it constantly in Penn.

In Milan Kundera's book "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" there's a section about music (starting on page 92 in my version of the book) that describes the character Sabina's dislike of music for similar reasons:

"Noise masked as music had pursued her since early childhood. During her years at the Academy of Fine Arts, students had been required to spend whole summer vacations at a youth camp. They lived in common quarters and worked together on a steelworks construction site. Music roared out of loudspeakers on the site from five in the morning to nine at night. She felt like crying, but the music was cheerful, and there was nowhere to hide, not in the latrine or under the bedclothes: everything was in range of the speakers. The music was like a pack of hounds that had been sicked on her.

At the time, she had thought that only in the Communist world could such musical barbarism reign supreme. Abroad, she discovered that the transformation of music into noise was a planetary process by which mankind was entering the historical phase of total ugliness. The total ugliness to come had made itself felt first as omnipresent acoustical ugliness: cars, motorcycles, electric guitars, drills, loudspeakers, sirens. The omnipresence of visual ugliness would soon follow."

I'm also reminded of the lyrics for Porcupine Tree's song, Sound of Muzak: "Soul gets squeezed out / Edges get blunt / Demographic / Gives what you want"

It's ironic that they could write such a good song about how people don't seem to care about music anymore. If you'd like to hear the song and see my favorite drummer Gavin Harrison at work, check out the video below:

Watching Gavin makes me long to play the drums again, and I've been tempted to buy a small electronic kit (since playing acoustic drums in an apartment isn't very practical). The only thing that stops me is that I don't really have the space for it. I might look at some over at Sam Ash next week and just see if there's a small kit that can easily be stowed away when not in use - we'll see.