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.