We have the democratic right to peace and quiet
Buxton Advertiser, May 11, 2023
Derbyshire Times, June 1, 2023
When I walk into my local shopping centre, the first sound I hear is not that of casual conversation, but non-stop piped music – played loud. I once asked one of the men running it whether they ever got fed up with the noise, and wanted to turn it down – or even off. His reply: ‘We can’t. It’s controlled at HQ’.
A standard definition of ‘noise’ is ‘an unpleasant sound’: one that is loud, irritating, or unwanted. For many shoppers, piped music exactly fits the bill. It’s everywhere, of course. It’s increasingly difficult to find an eating or drinking place that isn’t dominated by it – often at deafening volume. If you object, you may well be asked: ‘Don’t you like music?’ It’s tempting to reply: ‘Yes, and that’s the point!’
Indeed, many musical celebrities disapprove strongly of muzak: they see it as a debasement of the medium, whether pop or classical. The patrons of the brilliant ‘Pipedown’ campaign include Lesley Garrett, Julian Lloyd Webber and Simon Rattle.
As for the volume, those on the autism spectrum, or those with conditions such as CFS/ME and fibromyalgia, find loud music positively painful. Again, it is no coincidence that the US military used to blast round-the-clock rock music at their prisoners as a form of torture.
Avoiding locations which impose muzak, however, does not rid you of the problem of noise nuisance. All too often, the tranquillity of your home and garden is liable to be ruined, either by inconsiderate neighbours who play their sound systems at full blast or by workmen nearby who can’t work without their boombox. Again, a peaceful walk down a country lane is all too often marred by a thumping car stereo.
Such everyday experiences bring home an unavoidable fact: noise is a form of pollution. There’s so much of it: hence it is becoming more and more difficult to find a peaceful location. So we have to see it as an environmental challenge. The noise from traffic and industry is a major problem, of course. But the point about the noise from unwelcome music is that it could so easily be avoided, simply by those responsible stopping to consider its effect.
Music we have chosen is a great pleasure. But if it’s imposed on us, it counts as noise. We need to insist that everyone has the democratic right to peace and quiet.