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Unformatted text preview: Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. If electronic transmission of reserve material is used for purposes in excess of what constitutes "fair use". that user may be liable for copyright infringement. edited by Martin Clayton Trevor Herbert Richard Middleton Routlcdge Nu: Yul-k and London ‘ 1 92 CHAPTER 7 Music and Everyday Life SIMON FRITH In the British House of Commons on March 15, 2000, Robert Key, the Conservative MP for Salisbury, begged to move “That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the broadcasting of recorded music in cer- tain public places” (Hansard [Parliamentary Debates]. Sixth Series. 1999—2000, vol. 346, p. 326—27)). Key was speaking on behalf of Pipedown, the Campaign for Freedom from Piped Music, but suggested that there would be widespread public support for the measure. He cited a 1997 Sunday Times survey that found piped music to be number three in the list of things most hated about modern life. He noted that following a survey of its users, Gatwick Airport had stopped playing canned music. He drew on medical findings. “All uninvited noise raises the blood pressure and depresses the immune system.” He added information from the Chartered Institute of Environ- mental Health. “The commonest type of offending noise is not pneu- matic drills, mrs or aircraft but music.” The bill was greeted enthusiastically in the media, perhaps because everyone knew it wouldn’t get anywhere. But as a solution to the problem of public music, Key’s bill was actually quite modest. He didn’t seek to ban piped music from places where people choose to go (stores, hotels, sports clubs). His measure was meant to regulate involuntary listening. It covered hospitals and surgeries, local authority swimming pools, bus and railroad stations and journeys, and the streets. He didn‘t propose, as he might have, that in the future no one should listen to music except in premises licensed for that purpose. Musir and Everyday Lzfi It is not as if private places are free of musical pollution. How many people now travel by car in silence? Who now doesn’t shave or bathe to music, cook or iron to music, read or write to music? Thanks to the radio and the record player and the tape recorder, music is now the soundtrack of everyday life, and no law is going to change that. And our ears are as likely to be assaulted these days by classical music as by pop. It’s not just that music is everywhere but that all music is everywhere. Works com- posed for specific secular or religious occasions (marches, masses), in specific places (Thailand, Texas)—can turn up as if at random on TV commercials and restaurant tape loops. There’s no longer any necessary connection between the occasion for making music and the occasion of listening to it. Hence the peculiarity of our present situation: If music was once that organization of sounds that could be distinguished from noise, it has become the epitome of noise itself, more offensive, if Robert Key is to be believed, than the sound of jackhammers. One theme of twentieth-century composition was to make music out of noise, to reclaim the everyday for art, as it were. to write works forjack— hammers. Noise-asvmusic has as many instances as music-as—noise: Cage and Stockhausen wrote works including “live” radio (Imaginary Landscape N0 4 and Kurzwellen [Short W/avesh. Avant—garde composers took up l'ierre Schaeffer's and Pierre Henry’s idea of roncréte in a variety of genres. Eric Satie, following a different strategy, proposed musique 1/ 'ameublement, furniture music, which would be unnoticed in the every— day hubbub, an idea foll0wed up much later by Brian Eno in his Musirfor xihportx. And, of course, many rock musicians—in heavy metal bands and their offshoots, in the postpunk industrial and noise scenes—have made electronic amplification and the distorting effects of high volume and feedback a central part of their aesthetic. But what concerns me here is another of John Cage’s contributions, his question: What now is silence? Two points are striking here. First, silence is so rare that it has become, in itself, increasingly valuable. We live now not just with the permanent sense of traflic roar, the routine interruption of sirens and car alarms and mobile phones, but also with the ongoing electric hum of the refrigerator, the central heating, the neon lights, the digital clock. Silence has become the indicator of an unusual intensity of feeling—emotional intensity in the Hollywood film: public solemnity in the two—minute silence on Veterans' Day; the one—minute silt-nee hefore kickoff in which to honor someone's death. ll was. pmullmlily. this that prompted the Independent 93 94 Simon Frit/J Television Commission in Britain to censure Independent Television News (ITN) for broadcasting a “sick and tasteless” sequence of news in which “the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York was set to music.” The music (from Charles Gounod’s judex) may have been, as ITN claimed, suitable, with “a sombre, funereal tone,” but the very attempt to show these images in time to music “was inappropriate and breached the programme code.” And silence, as something valuable, to be bought, means not complete silence, but the absence of human or electronic or artificial sounds. Nature—the country retreat, the unsporled beach or bush or jungle, the mountain wilderness—is the most precious holiday resource. I I Because we seem to value silence, to covet it, it is perhaps surprlsmg that silence is also now something to be feared—on radio, in seminars, on the telephone. Here silence becomes something to be filled, and music becomes not that which isn’t noise, but that which isn’t no noise (i.e., silence). Popular music, something once used to drown out Other sounds—on the streets, in the music hall and variety theater, in the pub and parlor singsong—is now used to ensure that there is never no sound at all. If the BBC were to reintroduce Lord Reith’s rule that programs should be followed by silence, to allow listeners to reflect on what they- had heard, I have no doubt that the switchboard would be jammed with complaints: Has something gone wrong? In the House of Commons, Robert Key suggested that there is a - important difference between choosing to listen to musrc in public places. and having to listen to it, and given people’s apparent need to fill ther lives with music, the implication is that the problem is what we have t hear: Other people’s music. not our own. And certainly the routine use 0 be misleading. People are equally upset by what seems to be the inapp priate use of music they do like: Mozart as we wait for a plane to takeo Credence Clearwater or the Clash on a commercial; Miles Davrs in less than its circumstances. On the one hand, people seem less offended by live music: child singing on a playground, a brass band or choir in the park. an And I troupe of reggae guitarist in the shopping mall. A husker singing Wond Mmic and Everyday Lifi’ wall” or “Hey! Mr Tambourine Man" badly is less offensive than the orig- inal record. The issue here is not aesthetics but sociability. Live music is music as a social event, an aspect of a social situation—play, display, celebration, begging. It is an organic, a living aspect of public life (hence the term live music), whatever its technical or aesthetic qualities. Canned music, piped music (terms almost always used with negative connota- tions of the mechanical) has been removed from its social origins. Like some alien force it moves relentlessly forward regardless of any human responses to it. On the other hand, anecdotal polling suggests that there are experi- ences of public music that are particularly ofi‘ensive whatever the music involved. Music while a telephone is on hold; Walkman leak on trains and buses; the bass boom from a car at traffic lights; the endless loop of Christmas songs in December; the sound of other people’s parties. The offense here is against one’s sense of one’s own space—it is being invaded; but it reflects too, I think, resentment, resentment at being so obviously excluded by other people. Music, that is to say, has become a defensive as well as an offensive weapon (just as it has become a way of negotiating shared space, as in the club or on the dance floor). The question of how and why music got implicated in our sense of personal space is fascinating and has been little explored. It is not just a matter of music in public places; music is equally important in organizing domestic space. From a sociological perspective, that is, we can better understand the domestic relations of intimacy and distance, power and affection, by mapping patterns of musical use than we can explain musical tastes by reference to social variables. How is family space regulated musi- ullly? Family members (teenagers most notoriously) mark off their own space with their music—volume as a barrier. But what happens in com— munal spaces—the kitchen, the car? Who decides what plays? What music is ruled out taut court and why? I doubt if there’s anyone nowadays who couldn’t map the history of Lunin relationships along musical lines. It's a moot point whether changes an domestic ideology meant new markets for new kinds of domestic elec— trical goods, or whether it was the new musical possibilities that changed families. but I have no doubt that a sociology of contemporary courtship, rmnance, sex, and friendship could start with the role of music in these lrl.ui<ms|1ips: the exploration of each other’s tastes, the shifting degrees of “ill'l'flllL'C and intolerance for other people’s records, the importance of the musical gift, the attempts to change other people’s music habits, to resist 95 Simon Fritb Mutic and Everyday Life changing one’s own. I’ll come back to this. First I want to digress into some brief remarks about the role in all this of music radio. I believe that radio was the most significant twentieth—century mass medium. It was radio that transformed the use of domestic space, blurring the boundary between the public and the private, idealizing the family hearth as the site of ease and entertainment, establishing the rhythm of everydayness: the BBC “Children’s Hour,” “Breakfast Time,” “Friday Night Is Music Night!" It was radio that shaped the new voice of public intimacy, that created Britain as a mediated colleCtiviry, that gave ordinary people a public platform (creating the concept of “ordinary people” in the first place). It was radio that made sport a national symbol, that created the very idea of “light entertainment." Where radio led, television simply followed. And it was radio (rather than film) that established the possibil— ity of music as an ever—playing soundtrack to our lives. If television in all its varieties were to be abolished, it would make little difference to a classical music world that is, though, almost entirely depend— ent on radio not just for broadcasts, but also for the support of orchestras and concerts, for commissions and record sales. And while the pop world would have to adapt its ways if television no longer played a part in star; making, radio is still the most important source of popular musical dis-_ course, defining genres and genre communities, shaping music history and nostalgia, determining what we mean by “popular” music in the first place. It was radio that created the musical map that we now use to distin--. guish high and low music, youth and older people’s music, the specialist musical interest, and the mainstream. Radio is important nor leaSt as a means of access to music otherwise inaccessible, whether in the BBC’S sys- tematic policy of musical education or in the furtive teenage use of Radio Luxembourg, the American Forces network, and pirate radio stations as In practice, though, this is not how radio choice works. From the l950s’ rise of top 40 radio in the United States to the 19905 British suc- cess of Classic FM, it has become accepted industry wisdom that people are more likely to stay tuned to a radio station the more likely it is to play music that is familiar to them, records that they already own or have just bought. It is much harder to maintain listening figures for programs or stations that routinely play the odd or unfamiliar. And radio remains, of course, the essential tool for selling music of all sorts: The more a track is played, the more likely it is that listeners will buy it. What seems to be involved in radio listening, then, is a constant move- ment between predictability and surprise. On “our” station we expect to hear our kind of music, without ever being quite sure what will come next. It's as if we’re happy to let someone else have the burden of choice. And radio is also a way of suggesting a broader taste community. Our per- sonal musical likes and dislikes are publicly confirmed, and deejays and presenters have a particularly important role in treating music as a form of social communication. The only kind of radio that acquires the condition of muzak is that deejayless ambient format in which no voice is heard (unless it is selling something). Radio has also been important in developing the skill of switching attention, moving back and forth between hearing music and listening to it. treating it as background or foreground. It’s a skill that is taken for granted by film scorers, and one that we exercise everyday without thought as we walk down the street or sit in the pub. Public music irritates, one could say, when what should be in the backgrormd forces itself on us as foreground, but the queStion that interests me and to which I will return, is why it is, when we are now so skilled at screening out music that doesn't much interest us, that some songs or voices or melodies or beats just reach out and grab our attention anyway. For Adorno “all contemporary music life is dominated by the com- modity character” and it is the resulting “fetish character in music” that explains “the regression in listening” (Adorno [1938] 1991). Or, as we would say these days, music is a matter of brand and lifestyle. Take this report from the music industry trade paper Music W/eek: windows on another world. But here I want to use radio to address another issue: the question 0 musical choice. In the early days of the music industry, it was assumed that the phonograph and the radio were competing for domestic atten— tion, and it is often suggested that the US. record industry only surviv the Depression years of the 19305 because of the success of the jukcbo (an interesting example of a technological device for imposing privar musical choices on a public). It seemed a matter of common sense thati ’l‘hure was further good news f0r Classic FM last week when its Tv_ someone owned a record they could play at will, they wouldn’t turn on the radio to hear it. Or, alternatively. if they knew the radio would be rou- advuttised Time to Relax entered the compilation chart at number nine. "( iettinp, listeners to buy into the Classic brand is at the heart of what we rincly playing the latesr hits, why would they spend money on getting tl'l do. says IRoger. Lewis [(Jassie I‘M program controller]. "As well as thr- rccmds for lhcmwlvcsf .tllnnns m haw. lllt inagannr. .I tltdlt L.ll(l and L\Lll a daring agent}. \X( 9, Simon Frirh Music and Everyday Lzfi’ 99 are seeing a classical music phenomenon in the UK. as suddenly it’s cool to be classical.” (Music Week, November 3. 2001) Music can promote relaxation, alleviate anxiety and pain, promote appro— ptiate behaviour in vulnerable groups and enhance the quality of life of those who are beyond medical help. But underlying such brash commercialism are two broader transforma- tions in how music now works in society, the transformations to which Adorno is in part referring when he uses the term commodity character. On the one hand, we primarily think of music in terms of its me; on the other hand, usefulness means individual use. It is the use of music as a commercial tool to which we mostly object these days: its use to manipulate us in the market. There can be few people who are unaware of how music is used by advertisers and retailers. But it is equally important to note that people nowadays routinely use music to manipulate their moods and organize their activities for themselves. The pioneering researchers of music and everyday life in Britain, soci- ologist Tia DeNora and psychologist John A. Sloboda, both emphasize the extent to which people now regard music as a personal tool, something to be used. in DeNora’s terms, for “emotional self-regulation" (DeNora 2000). As a “technology of self,” music has become crucial to the ways in which people organize memory, identity, their autonomy. Both writers suggest that the driving force of people’s everyday use is the need to be in control, and that today this means integrating em0tional and aesthetic control: creating the setting for the appropriate display of feeling (whether to oneself or to others). Sloboda’s research also shows that people are more likely to use music to accompany chores than pleasures, tasks done as duties rather than enjoyed for their own sake (Sloboda and O’Neill 2001). Joggers routinely wear a Walkman; walkers do not. Once the dinner party conversation comes to life no one bothers to put on a new CD. In many societies, as ethnomusicologists have told us, the funCtions of music could be described in almost exclusively social terms: Music was. People can use music in their lives to manipulate their moods. alleviate the boredom of tedious tasks, and create environments appropriate for particular social events. The easy availability of music in everyday life is encouraging individu- als to use music to optimise their sense of well being. (Hallam 2001, 1) And she concludes her survey of research by suggesting that [t]here is also need for more systematic investigation of the ways that music can impact on groups of people in social settings. To date. research has tended to focus on commercial and work environments. The way that music may aficect behaviour in public places has been neglected. Such research, for instance. might explore whether particular types of music might stimulate orderly exits from large public functions, reduce the inci— dence of disorder in particular settings. increase tolerance when people have to queue for relatively long periods of time or engender feelings of well being and safety in public places. (Hallam 2001, 19) There are, in fact, already reports of music being used for such social engineering—classical music played in railroad stations to make them unsuitable as youth hangouts, for example—and what I want to note about this is less dismay that music should have become a technology of discipline rather than delight, than that it marks a significant shift in our understanding of how music is powerful. While the Taliban outlawed music with the traditional anxiety that it is a source of collective disorder, :1 challenge to religious authority, in modern societies discipline is inter- nalized. What’s at stake is not what people want to do but usually (until released by music) don’t, but what they don’t want to do in the first place. Music remains “a powerful medium of social order," but its power is exer- tised less through group psychology. the orchestration of crowds, than ilii‘ough individual psychology. the articulation of self. 'lia DeNora concludes her book on Music in Everyday Lzfi’ by suggest- used in games and for dancing; to organize work and war; in ceremonies and rituals; to mark the moments of birth, marriage, and death; to cele- brate harvest and coronation; and to articulate religious beliefs and tradi- tional practices. People might have enjoyed music individually, but its purpose was not to make them feel good. Compare assumptions now about the use of music. In a survey of 210 works on “the power of music” (commissioned by The Performing Right Society), Susan Hallam notes iiig ihat how contemporary research is focused on the use of music for therapy and medical treatment, for enhancing childrens learning abilities. and for [I lurilier explorations ol mllblt' .is ii is used and deployed in daily life in influencingindiwdual behavior. Among her “key points :li'etliese: reliiiiun in zigeiiey's miiligiimiioii Will only serve to highlight what 100 Simon Frith Adorno, and the Greek philosophers, regarded as a fimdamcntal matter in relation to the polis, the citizen and the configuration of consciousness; namely, that music is much more than a decorative art; that it is a power- ful medium of social order. Conceived in this way, and documented through empirical research, music's presence is clearly political, in every sense that the political can be conceived. (DeNora 2000, 163) I want to conclude by reiterating DeNora’s suggestion that music is much more than a decorative art. In The Sociology of Rock, published in 1978, I began with the observation that while recorded music was usually included in a list of the contemporary mass media in textbooks, it was rarely otherwise examined. Twenty and more years on and the situation hasn’t really changed. The cinema, television, newspapers, magazines, and advertising are still regarded in the academy as more socially and politi— cally significant than records. And so it needs stressing that what people listen to is more important for their sense of themselves than what they watch or read. Patterns of music use provide a better map of social life than viewing or reading habits. Music jusr matters more than any other medium, and this brings me back to my starting point and the ways in which music is now heard as offensive. It is because music is now used to mark private territory that it can also “invade” it; it is because music has become so deeply implicated in people's personas that it can be misused; and it is because music is now so widely employed as an emotional tool that its misuse is genuinely upsetting. But there are two further points I want to make. First, DeNora and Sloboda tend to refer musical meaning to its emotional function for indi— viduals, but music remains equally important as a means of communica— tion and as a form of sociability. Most academic research on everyday music focuses, as I have focused here, on music listening. But what is equally remarkable is the sheer amount of music making in which people are engaged, and my point here is not just that people do, in large num- bers, join choirs, form rock and pop groups, play around with record decks, and set up home studios, but also that these musical activities are central to their understanding of who they are. Music making provides, as Ruth Finnegan argues, critical pathways through life (Finnegan 1989). And music making is less about managing one’s own emotional life than about enjoying being together in groups, real and imagined. Future research in music and the everyday needs to integrate the study of music making with the stutly of musical use. ill) my mind. ongoing investigation Music and Everyday Life of people’s tastes and the current research focus on issues of identity are much less interesting projects than an ethnography that would try to map in detail people’s timetable of engagement, the reasons why particular music gets particular attention at particular moments, and how these moments are, in turn, imbricated in people’s social networks. Second, and to register finally my unease at treating music in simple functional terms, we need to balance accounts of how people use music to manage their emotions with accounts of how music still has the unex- pected power to disrupt us emotionally. The ancient myths of musical power—the stories of the Sirens, Orpheus, the Pied Piper—have a con— tinued force not primarily because of advertisers’ ceaseless attempts to lead us astray but because of the much more mysterious power of music in itself How is it that a voice suddenly reaches us, out of the back— ground, whether we are paying attention or not? Whatever the strength of those commercial and technological forces that turn the transcendent into the trite, I don’t think we have lost the sense that music, the musical experience, is special, that it is a way of one person reaching another without deceit. There’s still no better way than through music to be sur- prised by life. Further Reading Bennett, Tony, M. Emmison, and John Frow. 1999. Accounting for tastes. Australian everyday cultures. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press. Booth, Wayne. 1999. For the love of it. Amateuring and its rivals. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press. Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. 1988. A thousand phzteaus. Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press. Hargreaves, D. 1., and A. C. North, 1997. The social psychology of music. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. l lennion, Antoine, Sophie Maisonneuve, and Emilie Gomart. 2000. Figures de L'Amoteur. Formes, ohjets, pratiques de l’amour de la musique aujourd'hui. Paris: La Documentation Francaise. 1 .mm, joseph. 1994. Elevator music: A surreal history ofmuza/e, easy—listening and other moodsortg. London: Quartet. \tsnnell, Paddy. 1996. Radio, television and modem lifi. Oxford: Blackwell. IOI ...
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