Brainfood: Music to my ears

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The Independent Culture
What do the following have in common: Gatwick Airport, good continental restaurants, and the afterlife? Answer: the absence of that abomination, musical wallpaper, which is about as abusive as the dreaded sound, "Hi folks, this is your captain speaking."

Why is it as soon as the first customer arrives in a restaurant, the equivalent of Manuel gets up and turns on his hotch- potch of: (in Greece) a loop of bazouki, (in Spain) faux flamenco, (in Italy) the kind of Neapolitan song that gives the nation a bad name, and (elsewhere) some discreet Vivaldi or Telemann?

We are, of course - thanks to that most insidious of American exports - surrounded by musical noise everywhere we go. Our friends put a musical message on their answering machines; we get Muzak in lifts and waiting rooms. Even "classical" radio, on both sides o f the Atlantic, plays the endlessly forgettable in little chunks, almost all of which seems to be played by Trevor Pinnock and/or St Martin's in the Fields.

Thus I am delighted to hear of the founding of a society called Pipedown (the Campaign against Piped Music, 6 Kingsley Mansions, W14), among whose patrons are Alfred Brendel, Simon Rattle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Yehudi Menuhin, Julian Lloyd Webber (well, one can't only join organisations with whose patrons one completely agrees). The aim of this noble body is "to restore freedom of choice to all individuals, so they do not have to tolerate another person's choice of music, be it good, bad or unspeakable." Amen.

The combination of music and food is an old one. As the fattened ox turned on his spit, bards twanged on lyres and recited the fall of Troy; troubadours went about medieval banquet halls wailing of lost love; the kings of France had, if we are to believe the cinema, a deplorable weakness for the viola da gamba; the silly little courts of Germany had their music-by-the-yard; and in my youth we had the "palm court" trio of tired musicians straining at Waldteufel and Kreisler. But these musicians were (more or less) live and some of their music was specially composed for the occasion: it was real music, not background noise.

I would not want to limit the argument to freedom of choice. I would be as unhappy if they were playing music I wanted to hear, for I would prefer to listen to it not in a restaurant or a lift, or at the other end of a telephone, but live and in circumstances in which I could pay attention to the music itself. My real objection is that such subliminal trash, introduced surreptitiously into eye and ear, is demeaning to the arts.

As Pipedown points out, those of us who object to this earnapping are in the minority. Perhaps only one in ten of us will actually protest: most of us have become so inured to it that we don't even hear it any more.

There's little we can do about youths cruising with boom-boxed rap, and many other unseemly noises in our environment - but at least we can inform British Rail, the airport authorities and smarmy restaurateurs that we truly do not want to become captives to the sound of any music but our own

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