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The man who listened to music - click opera
February 2010
 
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Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 10:27 am
The man who listened to music

Doctor, I have a problem. The problem is that I listen to music. It's always in the foreground for me. My ears have no retractable flaps to block it, and my brain can't block it either. That may not seem like a problem to you, but it's a subtle and constant torture. In a world in which background music is omnipresent and usually banal, the creature who listens to music, who really lets it seep into his soul, is truly wretched. Let me tell you three things that happened yesterday, that hurt my ears and hurt my soul.

1. I went to the post office on the Frankfurter Allee to mail a letter. There was a queue, as there always is at lunchtime. Facing us were three post office clerks behind a monolithic desk and, above and behind them, a curious wall-mounted device, part camera, part speaker. From this device—it seemed all moulded from the same piece of vanilla-coloured plastic—came the muted sound of a maudlin classic 1960s pop song. It may have been "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". As this "evergreen classic" plucked at the heartstrings of the captive audience in the queue, making our day just a little heavier and sadder whether we were aware of the music or just let it seep in subliminally, the surveillance camera filmed us. Just in case the music failed to control us emotionally, and some criminal incident, some spontaneous uprising, should occur. "So this is pop music's fate," I thought gloomily, "to monitor our hearts while a camera monitors our bodies. To control our inside, the part the camera can't see." My conclusion was as maudlin as the song, staggering heavily from verse to chorus, plaint to refrain.



2. I joined Hisae at the Smart Deli, the Japanese cafe where we eat lunch almost daily. The Smart Deli is a wonderful place where you can get delicious salmon teriyaki for 5 euros, watch taped Japanese cooking and comedy shows, and leaf through the latest edition of post-Shibuya fashion magazine Fudge. The one thing that spoils it is the music. Yumi, the Japanese painter who runs the place, is currently going through a Jack Johnson phase. The last five times we've been to the cafe the same Jack Johnson record has been playing. It's surfer-emo, gentle minimalist music that sounds like Ben Harper without the funk, or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers on Mogadon. The phrasing is clipped and minimal, the tone pleasant if ever-so-slightly maudlin, the persona bland and affable. It's fucking torture — it's the perfect background music, yet I sit there like an idiot listening to it as if it were in the foreground. I can't background music, I'm a musician, for fuck's sake! So I listen to every clipped horrible guitar phrase, I listen to the "tasteful" production, I listen to the slightly masochistic lyrics, the similes and metaphors. At the end I ask Yumi who it is, trying to drop subtle hints. "You obviously like this music very much!" "Yes, my friend recommended him to me, and I got all three albums. It's nice music to play at this time of day." "But you have lots of other CDs, I'm sure there's some nice stuff in there!" "Yes, including your album, the one you gave me!" "Oh no, I don't want to hear my own album!" Just anything other than Jack Johnson. Classical music, reggae dub plates, those Japanese TV shows with the sound up, silence, crickets. It's funny, when you've accepted the Cagean proposition that anything, even silence, can be "music", when you've been trained by all those "listening artists" to pay attention to the rustling of a paper bag as if it were a symphony, it has an unfortunate side-effect. What's popularly thought of as "music"—even something as 'minimal' as Jack Johnson—is suddenly a massively over-egged pudding. It's unbearable.

3. We spent the evening with Anne Laplantine and Xavier. They recently got married, and got a chunk of money from their parents which they decided to spend on a video projector. So each night they have these screenings of DVDs, and invite friends around to watch them. Last night it was my turn to supply the DVDs, so I showed them "The Wicker Man" (despite collaborating with me on "Summerisle", Anne had never seen the film that partly inspired the project) and the unscreened BBC Incredible String Band documentary "Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending". In exchange, Anne lent me a DVD of "The Village", the film they'd screened on Saturday night, and which Hisae and I had skipped because I'd heard it was terrible. When I got home I watched it and it was indeed terrible, and the worst thing about it was the stock Hollywood orchestral score sawing and whining away in the background, telling me how the wooden acting and implausible plot was meant to make me feel. Except that it wasn't in the background at all, it was dangling its wretched banality right in my music-loving, music-hating face.

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petit_paradis
petit_paradis
erik
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 08:59 am (UTC)

Jack Johnson is a happy guy - and he wants his songs to make other people feel good, too, Sal Morgan writes

yes, there's where it all goes wrong in the first place. people who make happy music are normally not very happy themselves. though the image of a sad clown is an equally unbearable cliche perhaps.


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martinish
martinish
martinish
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 09:36 am (UTC)

I've been in places where the same track is looping on the CD, or it's stuck, or a radio is on but not tuned in properly. I find it completely distracting but not many people notice or care. Maybe it's a sign of getting old! Background music is more intrusive than foreground music - it demands your attention then you can't shake it off - why are they playing this? why choose that style music? what are they trying to imply with that choice?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 09:48 am (UTC)

It may very well be something to do with being old. I wrote a piece last month called the multi-tasking tribe which traced Japanese cellphone culture (the kids sometimes known as "the thumb tribe" because they can text amazingly quickly, often while chatting away, riding a bicycle, drinking, or thinking about something quite different) back to Shotoku Taishi, "a medieval multi-tasker so intelligent that he could listen to what ten people were saying, all speaking at once". Now, does the fact that we're in a cafe actually listening to the background music make us more or less like Prince Shotoku? Do the "thumb tribe"—kids with their keitais—actually have the ability to multi-task, or merely the ability to mask out irrelevant information... like music?


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geeveecatullus
geeveecatullus
clodia pulchra
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 09:42 am (UTC)
I hear you

I just was on holiday and the place I was staying at seemed to have owned only one cd with like 30 songs ... mostly old songs from the 50ies (pretty belinda and stuff like that) with bohemian rapsody on pan flute strewn in.
I felt bad for the people having to work there and spent more time than just the 20 minutes for breakfast like me.


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ex_mimic736
THE MMCSIS
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 10:15 am (UTC)
Re: I hear you

Repetition itself isn't bad, though, and is obviously key to a lot of genres, if not to all music. When I was younger I couldn't stand to listen to the same thing more than once or twice at a time or I felt it was ruined. Then I fell in with a jazz-trained hip hop/house/skratch DJ and it broke me out of that quite fast.

The pan flute Bohemian Rhapsody makes me think of the computer era equivalent.. all the great rock anthems that got the MIDI treatment.


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me_vs_gutenberg
me_vs_gutenberg
throbbing temples of love
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 10:57 am (UTC)

The Karate Kid Arcade Game"Daniel-san, your training completed when realize that even music is music."


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 11:29 am (UTC)
Paradox of the paradox

But the thing is, statements like these

* Silence is music
* Property is theft

do contain the idea that music is music, and the idea that theft is theft. They are "revolutionary" only in the sense that they bring everything 360 degrees, back to where they started, rather than leaving them at 180, the diametric opposite. Clearly the statement that property is theft deconstructs the idea of property but not the idea of theft... and therefore not the idea of property either. And the statement that silence is music deconstructs the idea of of silence, but not the idea of music, and therefore not the idea of silence either. In order to arrive at a new place, we'd have to dismantle both sides of the binary, in other words the whole distinction. Let's call it "the paradox of the paradox", Grasshopper.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 12:10 pm (UTC)

do you know this awful mall in nagoya called oasis? it has a super complex multi speakers system on the roof which broadcast some kind of parody of synth driven eno-esque ambient music, with water noise and awful midi bells. it's impossible not to hear it, not to be distracted. it's so bad you can't dismiss it as background music, which is a paradox, as it was sound-designed to be forgotten. makes the whole eno/satie motto about ambient music, of a music that should become background, kind of off the point. anyway...

(odot)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 12:18 pm (UTC)

But just about all Japanese commercial areas, especially the ekimae, have music pumping out of speakers mounted on lampposts. Sometimes it's super-melodramatic enka, sometimes pure ambient sound (Ebisu shopping centre has bird chirps, rather nice!), sometimes pop pap. And it's competing with people shouting through loudhailers, political campaigners, the music in stores (sometimes two clashing layers of music, with the "Sakana Song" playing near the fish cabinet). These zones seem designated for sound pollution, whereas residential zones are quiet as the grave, apart from the occasional sweet potato seller or electronic junk collector.

This is what interested me so much about the Shobus tour, whether you were aware of these different zones with their different attitudes to ambient sound? Did you pass from commercial areas to residential areas, and get totally different responses?


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piratehead
piratehead
Good bye
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 12:11 pm (UTC)

Alas, it is this very predicament that you describe that makes working in the service sector so horrible a burden for sensitive youths. When I worked as a grocery stock-clerk, I was afflicted by "A Horse With No Name" what seemed to be several times a day. What horror!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 12:13 pm (UTC)

And "House of the Rising Sun", even more unbearable after the hurricane...


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silenceinspades
silenceinspades
silence in spades
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 12:29 pm (UTC)

for months i was leaving my job slightly more melancholy and angry than usual. i eventually realized that the guy i share my office with was listening to the band evanescence on his headphones all day. i could barely make out the sound of the goth/metal/rap music but it was effecting me on a subconcious level. i had to bring in my own headphones to counter act this.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 06:06 pm (UTC)

I find myself cursing such people, obsessively, and the situation they put me in..."Should I leave the computerlab now early to get some food and risk losing a place by the time I get back because of the boorish twittering radiating from the asshole's headphones a few feet from me? YES." I hate davematthewsband, pearljam, any angry frumpy american evolution of those...gosh't it makes my neck twitch sometimes~.


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georgesdelatour
georgesdelatour
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 12:34 pm (UTC)

I once found myself in a provincial Indian restaurant on a Monday night. As I waited for my curry I noticed that the background music was Stockhausen's Kontra-Punkte. It seemed bizarre that an English high street Tandoori would choose Stockhausen as mood music for eating Chicken Tikka Masala. I asked the waiter about it. He told me the CD player was broken, so they turned the radio on to Radio Three for some nice Western music.

I like the idea that, to his Indian ears, Stockhausen was just as alien as, say, Johann Strauss. Most of all I just liked being exposed to music that was not being sold to me. Most high street shops, the Gap, Starbucks etc play pre-selected music tied in with promotional campaigns. The dreadful Joss Stone is the new face of Gap, so if you're sad enough to go in there, they'll probably force you to listen to her horrid music.


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 12:52 pm (UTC)

kingfisher is brewed in england. (unfortunately)


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the_bee_box
the_bee_box
the_bee_box
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 01:32 pm (UTC)

I have this problem as well, night is particularly difficult. In summer the hum of an electric fan will keep me up with its slightly varying rhythm. But the restaurant scenario is completely true, and I get irritable and can't focus on my food.

For me, it isn't just limited to music; I have a very strong sense of smell. The smell of wherever I am is in the foreground as well. I don't know how it is in Berlin, but as far as the Midwest goes, everyone has their damn yankee candles or party-lite candles with these artificial smells that take over their surroundings. If I'm in a place, I'll just fixate on the smell, even if it's minimal or lingering traces. I'll be fully distracted, disgusted by it. On occasion, the reverse is true, a good, authentic smell that I love is equally distracting, but at least in a pleasurable way. Actually, it's sublime.

The same with color, design, texure and taste. If you are always looking, listening, tasting and feeling the whole world becomes foreground.

Somebody (I'm sorry I don't remember who or I'd reference you) mentioned this could be related to age. I'm 27, so while not young, still younger-ish. I think it is more related to the aesthetics of life. Creative people tend view everything for its potential beauty, and thus their senses are always on, and the whole world is, in a sense, the foreground. They are taking in far more sensually, which forces the full spectrum upon them. It's almost a perverse form of bi-polar disorder. Does exposure to the really awful allow more enjoyment of the really good? I know this isn't nearly as theoretical or philosophical a statement or idea as you were getting at with the post. But I suspect it is a gift/plague for a lot of people that read Click Opera. We LOVE what we love, but otherwise, we're rather irritable at the constant waves of mediocrity and predictability for the rest of the day. Please excuse the presumption.

As a side note, I want to read the John Cage book as I think it would help me articulate this better.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 01:44 pm (UTC)

I think you're absolutely right, that it's not so much about age as about being an aesthete, being "always on" and taking in all the texture there is around us. It's both a delight and a torture. Of course, it's a bit difficult to complain, just as I found it difficult to complain to Yumi, whose cafe is otherwise a delight. You end up needing a mother who tells everyone "Little Marcel is so sensitive, I'm afraid the kind of things that other people don't even notice torture him." At which point the entire world beats you up, and you're forced to retreat to a cork-lined room.


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aesthete smells - (Anonymous) Expand

cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 02:34 pm (UTC)

I used to work as a doorman in an apartment building in the mid seventies. One of my duties was to turn the Muzak on in the morning. It was about a two hour cycle of wretched instrumental versons of wretched pop tunes that repeated all day long. I thought I was in hell. I still have nightmares.

http://www.cheapsurrealism.com/sounds/Spoken_Interlude.mov


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anti_peace_riot
anti_peace_riot
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 02:35 pm (UTC)

The first point made me think of back home. I live in a somewhat rough area of town and there used to be a lot of gang related shootings at our local transit station (the TTC). As a way to get rid of this violence, speakers were mounted around the long concrete entrance and around the station and played classical music. All the while taping us to see if someone will break out in to a shooting.

Later on, "gangsters" grew accustomed to shooting people with Vivaldi or Mozart in the background and the classical music campaign was discontinued.


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 03:02 pm (UTC)

the council picked the wrong composers.


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Where? - (Anonymous) Expand

300letters
300letters
Manufactured Pretense
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 05:00 pm (UTC)

The same thing happens to me with Light. Damn fluorescents and poorly chosen desk lamps. Fuck!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 06:00 pm (UTC)

I have the same problem...try looking here:
http://www.fullspectrumsolutions.com/

I got the 55w floor lamp:(http://www.fullspectrumsolutions.com/ultralux_floor_lamp_13_ctg.htm)
But would certainly look into getting the overhead Commercial lighting fixtures...a little more, but a lot more of that great pure light...the clarity...the colors...mmmmmmm


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 05:15 pm (UTC)

It's strange, radio music does ofcourse never apply an "sad n good" mix of artists. Everything is uptempo and sunny.

An example of when I want to kill myself is when I am supposed to do the cooking and my sister plays her "beloved" collection of j-pop/j-Rock! I fell like if I want to put on the stove fan right away.

Crushes your heart and soul...


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thebestweapon
thebestweapon
thebestweapon
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 05:47 pm (UTC)

haha this is great. What's especially fitting is your movie selection -- the Wicker Man has one of my absolute favorite soundtracks.


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bardot
bardot
the word girl
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 05:57 pm (UTC)

this makes me think about a time when jason and i went to a local GAP store and heard the same song played twice. jason asked a clerk why this happened, and she replied in a matter-of-fact way that the corporation supplies all stores with the same CD that they play over and over until a new CD is sent from corporate. i suppose this is to create a designated "experience" of the store for every customer walking in (like when certain restaurants play faster music during lunch hour to coax diners to eat/leave faster), but it has to be maddening to the employee. maybe the clerk was joking, though.


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butterflyrobert
RND
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 09:40 pm (UTC)

No, this is a very common corporate practice. They even have special disc players that won't play normal CDs - only the corporate mandated ones.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 06:16 pm (UTC)

Just to note that once I heard a radio station play a popular song about 10-11 times when I was sitting in the car on the highway. THAT was disturbing.


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butterflyrobert
RND
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 09:37 pm (UTC)

This reminds me of a funny story:

In younger years, I worked at a copy shop. On my first day, I was bombarded with Celine Dion all day and I was thinking of quitting near the end of the day. I investigated the source of the inane "music" and it was some sort of muzak-like "receiver". During my investigation, I realized that it had been the same song looped ALL DAY. To me, all Celine Dion songs sound like the same horrible song over and over, so it was a challenging realization. I had had enough and broke the receiver thingy. I got a few days of peace before a tech came out and fixed it. That very same day, I took my workplace vandalism a step further and completely destroyed the infernal machine. The tech came out a few days later and lamented that it couldn't be fixed. The boss refused to buy another one (apparently these things are expensive and the warranty didn't cover suspected vandalism - he had his bonus to think about, afterall) and I had quiet workplace bliss for the rest of my tenure there. Not surprisingly, nobody made any attempts to ferret out the vandal.


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jimyojimbo
jimyojimbo
Dr Jim
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 09:46 pm (UTC)

I believe Jack Johnson has an advert on UK TV at the moment; you know, the kind of slot where they'd usually try and sell the Beautiful South or somesuch. Anyway, at some point a press quote is read out:

"A Dylan for the 21st century..."

A Dylan for the what now? Yea gods. If (arguably) some names in culture are sacred, Dylan's is - for better or worse. But still, to compare that anodyne nonsense to Dylan is a stretch. I forget which press outlet originated the quote, because whenever I see the advert my eyes start to bleed.


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maybeimdead
maybeimdead
Maybe I'm Dead
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 11:28 pm (UTC)

so moronic cynical!


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jes5199
jes5199
Alec Hidell
Tue, Sep. 20th, 2005 11:14 pm (UTC)

i don't know why you've come out of nowhere and are now talking in all of the places that i read, but i'm certainly glad you don't live in your brain.


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transitiveaxis
transitiveaxis
Wed, Sep. 21st, 2005 10:02 am (UTC)

Don't know if you know, but the TV adverts in England are saying Jack Johnson is the 21st Century's Bob Dylan. I'm not sure whether to laugh out loud or accept that its right in a very horrible way


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Feb. 23rd, 2007 03:32 am (UTC)
air-gun

Hello
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZOSgiHUGPc&mode=related&search=


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