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Tuesday 15 February 2005

Art Music as Weapon

The L.A. Times has an article today about using classical music as a crime deterrent. First, some background:

Wesleyan had a symposium last spring about environmental sounds. Someone presented a paper using music to chase away teenagers. The researcher found that classical music doesn't repel anyone and the evidence is all anecdotal. Nobody has actually done studies. The L.A. Times claims otherwise, but who knows if the reporter actually did research or just reported what everybody "knows."

The L.A. Times article talks about what it means, socially, to use Art Music as a weapon. They have an elitist take on it, however, and speak only from the point of view of high art types and the police/state. No actual thugs or teenagers were interviewed. Middletown, CT has a parking garage which blares baroque music all day every day. There s a coffee shop on the first floor of the garage. Teens congregate outside the coffee shop. The inside of the shop blasts industrial music to attract the teens. The outside of the coffee shop blasts classical to drive them away. The teens I've talked to say they don't notice and they don't care. (It drives me crazy though.)

What environmental sound programming actually does is define space. Let's say you're in a mall. the whole thing is indoors. There are many hallways, rooms, etc. You have some rooms that are shops that must be differentiated from the common area of the mall and from the store next door. the entire environment is totally homogenous, so they need to use several cues to define themselves as a separate space. These involve things like color scheme, decorations and sound. the large mall has one sound track. Each store has it's own soundtrack. They contract with companies like music to provide them with a soundtrack which reflects whatever image the store is trying to sell. Sound design in this context is about creating feelings of group membership. This store plays your music and sells your clothes. It welcomes in the demographic that the store hopes to attract.

Using art music on Middletown's parking garage is basically the same strategy. The music says, "this is not your music, this is not your place to hang out." Rather than be "uncool," or somehow cause people to switch to concert behavior, what the music actually telegraphs that public spaces are reserved for the upper classes. and how can you possibly object to classical music? It's the highest form of art! Anyone who objects to this plan is either a thug or a philistine.

Obviously, public spaces belong equally to everyone regardless of class or any other factor. Things that try to define it as reserved for the rich are objectionable. The weaponification of sound is also extremely probelmatic. This trend is related to the army blasting rock music at detainees. Remember when we invaded Panama and played loud death metal at the Papal Nuncio until Noriega surrendered? Also related to the sound cannons owned by the New York police department. Public sounds used to mean carillons playing noon concerts. Now it's something to divide and destroy.

and what does it mean for Art Music when the state insists that it's objectionable and does not belong to youth or the poor? I believe there is a plot afoot to destroy art. We all have to listen to commercial pop and hate and fear all serious art and serious music or else we're uncool? The future of music is doomed.

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