by Nigel Rodgers
Hon Sec and founder of Pipedown
'Tranquillity lubricates the soul, piped music destroys it.'
Spike Milligan, Pipedown supporter
Why, some people ask, have a campaign against piped music? Aren't there other worse evils to fight in the world? Isn't the idea of a campaign against any music negative? Anyway, some people like piped music!
True , I reply, but even more hate it, according to surveys. We are not campaigning for the total abolition of piped music, simply for the freedom to go round public places - restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, hospitals, airports, etc. - without having someone else's idea of good music drummed into you all day and everywhere. For easily the worst thing about piped music (also called muzak, elevator music or canned music) is its infernal, inescapable ubiquity. You can NEVER escape it - even waiting in aircraft to take off, or while on hold on the phone, a distortion of Vivaldi's Four Seasons can drive you screaming to the very edge of insanity. Pipedown, the International Campaign for Freedom from Piped Music (the full title) answers a real global need.
It was a need I knew little about when we began eight years ago. I was finally goaded into acting eight years ago after so much useless moaning by what happened one evening in a London bistro. The food was excellent, the service efficient, the prices not too outrageous, my companion adorable. The only trouble was that we could not hear ourselves speak. Music blaring from every corner. killed conversation. I asked the waiter to turn it down but he shrugged and said it was beyond his powers, as if it were the weather. We asked other nearby diners what they thought: they all hated it too. We left for somewhere quiet to talk. What we talked about was piped music: how it was spreading everywhere, how almost everybody seemed to loathe it but nobody did anything about it except moan in private. If anyone did protest, the invariable reply was: You are the first person ever to complain!
On that cacophonous evening Pipedown was born. Now we have thousands of members around the world, sister groups in several countries, local groups across Britain and subcampaigns (including one against excessive background music on television and radio). The Quiet Pint, the guide to muzac-free pubs compiled by Derek Dempster, is in its fourth edition, and there is talk of producing The Quiet Bite, a similar guide to muzac-free restaurants. But the fight back against piped music has only begun.
We campaign for acoustic freedom - the right NOT to have listen to somebody else's choice of music (whether you think it good, bad or indifferent) when out shopping, eating, travelling, in hospital or waiting on the telephone. We make no distinction between different types of music, only as to whether the music is voluntarily chosen or not. If a bar proudly claims it is playing music, that is fine with us- we are not trying to force their tastes on others, merely fighting the way others force their tastes on them!
Contradicting the muzac-monger's claims that objector's to piped music are a small, cranky minority are figures from several impartial surveys, notably the National Opinion Poll's of November 1998 (in the UK). In this, 34% of people surveyed said they loathed piped music, only 30% liked it and the rest were indifferent. Among those aged over 45, a majority hated it but even among those under 25, a hefty 21% disliked it. Another survey carried out at Gatwick Airport, London (Britain's second biggest airport) in '994 of 68,077 people showed that 43% disliked the piped music then being played there, only 34% liked it, the rest were indifferent. Gatwick Airport has since discontinued its piped music. But piped music continues to spread globally. In France, it is even piped into streets and parks!
Among our keenest supporters are musicians of differing sorts - including Julian Lloyd Webber from the classical world, George Melly from the jazz world, Tony Parsons from the rock world, plus Joanna Lumley! - and music teachers. who find it ever harder to get their students actually to listen to music. This applies to all types of music, just as we campaign against the misuse of all types of music. Music is too good to be used as a marketing tool of highly debatable effectiveness.
Among our weapons are five types of cards (four to hand out, one to post for telephonic muzac) and four types of sticker. By themselves they do nothing, but as they carry the results of the surveys and the names of famous people who oppose piped music, they all help spread the message: Piped music stinks! Also we are lobbying the British Parliament for a bill to ban piped music in hospitals and other indisputably public places such as public swimming pools or libraries, where it can be impossible to escape. A patient immobilized in a hospital bed and tormented by piped music is not a customer who can walk out to another hospital: he or she is a victim of acoustic assault! As repeatedly shown, any unwanted noise harms the health - it puts up the blood pressure and cholesterol levels and depresses the immune system. A survey of 115 blood donors at Nottingham University Medical School in January 1995 found that piped music made donors more nervous BEFORE giving blood, and more depressed AFTER giving it than silence.
Pipedown has joined forces with other anti-noise groups to form the UK Noise Association, an umbrella group of British anti-noise organisations. Noise has been called 'the forgotten pollutant,' because the moment it stops it leaves no measurable trace - except on the shattered nerves and healths of its victims. We are increasingly concerned about the adverse effects on the health, mental and physical, of workers who have to put up with non-stop music they don't want. According to the same NOP survey, a typical sales assistant will be forced to hear "Jingle Bells" at least 300 times in the run-up to Christmas! That is surely acoustic torture - if not one widely recognised as yet.
We are just one of many groups fighting to change popular attitudes to noise pollution. But as complaints about noise pollution are the fastest growing form of environmental complaint, we seem to be riding a mounting wave.
Want to learn more about Pipedown or join their efforts: see their homepage at http://www.pipedown.info/facts.php
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