Acoustic marmite in the British Museum? No thanks! say visitors – and The Times

The ‘Celtic music’ piped around the Celts: Art and Identity exhibition in the British Museum has been annoying visitors. One found the music ‘excruciating’; another advised people to take earplugs. Luke Turner, editor of The Quietus, an online magazine about music, said the music detracted from an otherwise enjoyable experience. ‘[It] felt like a real cliché of what you’d imagine Celtic music to be… like a “Celtic Moods” CD.’  The Times  devoted a leader (16 October) to  it, saying that ‘if people want music in museums let them plug it into their own ears.’  This is the first time a major national newspaper has discussed background music in a leader.

Dr Julia Farley, the exhibition’s curator, said she wanted to destroy any air of reverent silence, but she admitted the ‘Celtic music’ was a ‘bit of a marmite thing‘ i.e. you love it or loathe it. Unwittingly, she has revealed the misconception underlying most unwanted piped music. For while no one is ever actually forced to eat marmite in a restaurant (or anywhere else), far too often we are are forced to listen to music we hate. The final effects – irritation and alienation – are the exact opposite  of what the proponents of background music generally claim.

Background music can endanger surgical operations

It is well known that some surgeons play music (which will be of their choice but not possibly of rest of their team) during operations. Now a study suggests this may affect the skills of their surgical teams. Using an analysis of video footage from 20 operations, a report in the Journal of Advanced Nursing of 5 August 2015 of a UK study shows ‘that some operating theatre teams are negatively affected by background music during surgery. Communication within the theatre team can be impaired when music is playing… requests from a surgeon to a nurse for instruments or supplies were often repeated and there was qualitative evidence of frustration or tension within some teams.’ Conversely,  new reports suggest that patients to whom music is played before and after operations may feel less pain and recover better. The vital point here, easily overlooked, is that patients may well find music of their own choice and taste soothing. But music they do not like or want will have the opposite effect. As musical tastes are more varied than they have ever been, freedom to choose the type of music (if any) they listen to is the issue. At present, that freedom is far too often lacking in hospitals.

Pipedown pushes for legislation to ban hospital piped music

Inside the  House of Commons, with its many newly elected MPs,  Pipedown hopes to get a Private Member’s Bill to ban unwanted background music and television in hospitals. Such a bill is badly needed to save the sanity of people who suffer  from such truly inescapable music/television. (See the booklet Whose Choice is it Anyway? 2012, for details of their torment. Copies as pdfs available free to members from Pipedown). Unlike in shops, hotels, restaurants etc, people seldom have a real choice when going into hospital. They are also often at their most vulnerable there. Recognising these special factors, two politicians have attempted to introduce  Private Member’s Bills: Robert Key, then MP for Salisbury, in the House of Commons and Tim Beaumont, the only Green Party peer, in the House of Lords. Neither succeeded but they pioneered the idea that piped music is an issue on which legislation is needed.

Yet it remains an idea that ministers and civil servants are unwilling to accept. Such official reluctance does not mean that all MPs are indifferent or hostile to the concept – some may be as enthusiastic as Robert Key was, others will be broadly sympathetic.  As MPs have no way of knowing  what concerns their constituents unless they are told, it is up to everyone dismayed by unwanted television and music in hospitals to let their MP know.

Write or email your MPs, suggesting they support – or even better, propose – a Private Member’s Bill to ban music and also television which, blaring away nonstop, can turn any ward into acoustic hell. Patients who wish to listen to television or their own music, as many do, can do so through headphones, so they will not suffer any deprivation. When enough MPs have been alerted, and their responses collated (by being sent on to Pipedown), we aim to to start intensive lobbying inside Westminster itself.

The government line is still that whether or not a hospital has background music or television is solely a matter for the local NHS trust and not its concern. This approach is useless if you find yourself in a ward where television or music is playing non-stop. In truth, the issue does not interest the central government, yet it intervenes in many areas of national life, including health, when it wants to. We need to alert enough MPs that this is an important health issue so that the message reaches Jeremy Hunt at the Department of Health loud and clear. 

So write to your MP, whether he/she is newly elected or not – and whether or not you are actually a member of Pipedown. (MPs who currently hold a government post cannot propose Private Members’ Bills but they can support one. And they may not be in office for ever.)

 

Which? magazine publishes list of muzac-infested shops

Following its long-running debate on piped music in shops (see http://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/annoying-background-music-shops-supermarkets/), Which? magazine has published a short piece on the subject.

No surprise to see that the Co-op is named as the worst-offending supermarket chain, with Marks & Spencer as the worst department store.    (Not by coincidence, both have been doing badly in recent years.)  These findings echo those from our Quiet Corners’ Competition (see earlier entry.)

Which? magazine does not, however, suggest doing more than asking for the music to be turned down. It should be starting/leading a campaign to roll back the music.

Nicola Benedetti protests against forced music on planes

Nicola Benedetti, the award-winning violinist, has just tweeted to her followers: “Why is it necessary to subject us all to loud pop music on the plane? It’s like being forced to eat something you don’t want” She was travelling with Vueling, a Spanish airline (you have been warned!)  Vueling replied, saying the music was supposed to be enjoyable. Nicola thanked them for their reply but went on to say, “Quiet is a rare and precious thing these days. I think many of us would enjoy that more”. In July 2014 Nicola, who is 28, went into the Top Twenty of the Top of the Pops with her recording of Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, written in 1880.  

Losing the sounds of nature

Rising levels of background noise in some areas threaten to make people oblivious to the soothing yet inspiring sounds of birdsong, trickling water and trees rustling in the wind, natural sounds which can often be heard even in city centres, said Kurt Fristrup, a scientist at the US National Park Service.

The problem was worsened by people always listening to iPods and similar machines through earphones instead of tuning in to the birds and other natural sounds that can be drowned out by traffic, music and others noises, he said.

“This learned deafness is a real issue,” Fristrup told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Jose. “We are conditioning ourselves to ignore the information coming into our ears. This gift that we are born with – to reach out and hear things hundreds of metres away, all these incredible sounds – is in danger of being lost through a generational amnesia . There is a real danger, both of loss of auditory acuity, where we are exposed to noise for so long that we stop listening, but also a loss of listening habits, where we lose the ability to engage with the environment the way we were built to”.

Much the same addiction to non-stop music  afflicts people who expect ubiquitous and ceaseless piped music in every shop, restaurant, pub…

see http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/feb/17/noise-pollution-is-making-us-oblivious-to-the-sound-of-nature-says-researcher

How to Protest: a Brief Guide for the Harassed

Make your views known – politely, pertinently but firmly

Many people find it difficult to complain about piped music. But if you say nothing, pubs, shops, hotels and restaurants with piped music will have no idea how widespread or deeply felt dislike of piped music is, nor how much business they are probably losing.

Here are some suggestions for positive ways to make your views and feelings clear.


If piped music has been introduced recently, emphasise how much you enjoyed shopping/eating in the past without music. Ask why they have changed their policy.

If the music is switched off in a shop where it is usually played, tell the staff how pleasant the atmosphere is without the music. Ask them if the quiet is a new policy.

At the check-out don’t just complain bad-temperedly  about the piped music. Instead, ask a general question, such as “Who chooses your music for you?” “Are you enjoying the music?” etc. It’s amazing how often assistants will start complaining about it, too. They have to listen to it all day long and are a captive audience, unlike passing shoppers.

Unless you are being served by the manager of a small business,  the person dealing with you may have no control over the music, saying it is a “management decision”. It is far better to write to the Chief Executive Officer. This is  usually the best way to get through the layers of middle management etc that try to silence protest.

A list of CEOs is available at http://www.ceoemail.com/

Emails are faster and easier than writing but some people think that an actual written letter (provided it is legible)  has more impact.


IF booking a meal or hotel room, ask in advance if they play piped music. This helps emphasise the fact that background music is not universally loved. If they play it, ask how loud it is. If you find it a problem because of hearing difficulties, such as presbycusis or other health issues, make sure they know that this is why you object.

All members of Pipedown receive, as part of their membership, a wide range of comment cards which quote surveys showing how many people really hate piped music. These can be left in shops etc to express your views and demonstrate you are not a lone crank.

Finally, always praise businesses that don’t play music! Enough e-mails to the Chief Executive might dissuade yet another business from taking out a music licence.

Julian Lloyd Webber announces winners of the QUIET CORNERS CONTEST

Julian Lloyd Webber has announced the List of Winners:
In the Quiet Supermarkets category Waitrose won first prize. Booths, a small northern chain, came second. Aldi and Lidl were third equal.   The Co-op was damned as worst offender.
Department Stores   John Lewis came first. Marks & Spencer was named worst offender, partly because of the arrogant management who dismiss  every letter of complaint with the automated (and untrue) response: ‘All shoppers like our piped music.’
Bookshops. Foyles was the winning bookshop chain, with Daunt Books coming second.  Individual bookshops Hatchards in Piccadilly was the best quiet individual bookshop
Pub chains Wetherspoons – Tim Martin, head of Wetherspoons who was present at the announcement, raised a glass at the news. Sam Smiths came second.
Individual pubs The Waterhouse, Princess Street, Manchester
Hotels the Evesham Hotel in Worcestershire
Restaurants  Sally Clarke in Kensington Church Street, London
Chemists/pharmacies Lloyds chain
Cafés  The North Star Delicatessen, 418 Wilbraham Road, Manchester

Banks  Nationwide and Barclays were joint winners, with HSBC the worst offender.

The Awards Ceremony

Piped music and even simple work don’t mix

Research presented in October 2014 to the American Academy of Paediatrics in San Diego has found that 85% of teenagers perform even simple tasks worse when they are distracted by piped music or phones. Only 15% manage to perform as well as when they are not so distracted.  Sarayu Caulfield, one of the study’s authors from Stanford University, California, says: ‘Most people still work at their best while focusing on one thing.’  http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/National/article1473083.ece

This result is no surprise for it corroborates a study from Cardiff University of August 2010  which found the effects of piped music on people in the work place to be generally negative. Dr Nick Perham, lecturer in psychology at Uwic’s Cardiff School of Health Sciences, said that background music harmed ability to memorise information in a set order, such as the order of chemical elements in the periodic table or the series of steps involved in solving a mathematical puzzle. ‘Most people listen to music at the same time as, rather than prior to performing a task,’ he said. ‘To reduce the negative effects of background music when recalling information in order one should either perform the task in quiet or only listen to music prior to performing the task.’

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/study-shows-background-music-hampers-1901675 

However the piped music industry continues to fund research – very smooth and plausible reseach – whose findings suggest quite the opposite.  See the latest from MusicWorksforyou  http://www.musicworksforyou.com/news-and-charts/news/269-music-hits-the-right-notes-for-business-success. No surprises here either, for the piped music industry has a remarkable ability to twist  facts, one rivals that of the tobacco industry, which for decades managed to squash findings  revealing how unhealthy smoking really is.

Which sources are to be believed?  Stanford and Cardiff Universities, which are impartial and highly respected bodies? Or what are essentially PR teams for piped music, often funded in some ways by the piped music industry itself