Thursday, March 5, 2009

Soothing the savage brats

Barry Manilow must have a phenomenal agent.

I'm not old enough to remember when he was a popular singer. The first time I heard his name, it was a punchline. And yet he's still performing, his records are still selling, and he can still make headlines.

His latest incarnation is as a sonic weapon. In Christchurch, a local business organisation has a plan to drive surly teens away from shopping areas by playing Barry Manilow at them. It's not a new idea. The Australians have been experimenting for years with the likes of him and Bing Crosby, and it looks like Manilow's indefatigable agent has persuaded someone that it's been a success.

Various business mouthpieces seem to like the idea. The local plod approves it. Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale is evidently a Manilow fan: "You can create a nice environment by introducing nice music," he rashly told a reporter.

One Christchurch teen threatened retaliation. "We would just bring a stereo and play it louder", she promised - conjuring a Pythonesque image of escalating noise pollution, in which advertisers, buskers, youths, passing vikings and the Salvation Army contend to build a cacophony of Jerichoic proportions.

Of course there are laws against that, but it seems rather unfair that noise pollution ordinances can be deployed to keep J Random Teen's ghettoblaster to a lower limit than Mr Lonsdale's loudspeakers.

There is, I would think, a real likelihood that the cure will be worse than the disease - that a relentless diet of "O Mandy" will drive away more shoppers than loiterers, to say nothing of the impact on Christchurch's already-disturbing suicide rate.

But then, maybe it's just a plot to increase sales of MP3 players, to young and old alike.

Personally, I say: if you want teens to behave, forget Manilow, play them Bach. They'll still be standing about, talking (increasingly loudly) about how lame it is, but even while they're bitching, they'll be lulled into a well-tempered Germanic sense of calm.


Ruby Apolline said...

Was it you who posted on That Writing Site about a similar experiment by businesses involving playing a sound high enough for young(er) people to hear but inaudible to those over the age of 25 or so? It was you or ahickpoet, I think. Struck me as a good idea at the time. Manilow would drive me insane in about .0000002 of a nanosecond.

I should point out though, re Bach, that our local symphony pipes music out into the street (I assume for advertising purposes). I don't know how loud Christchurch is but where I live, the street is so busy that the symphony must increase the volume such that bizarre warping effects occur as the sound bounces off surrounding buildings. Bach's a good idea, but may be difficult to execute, particularly anything on the harpsichord.

vet said...

I remember someone writing about that, but it wasn't me. Not originally anyway.

The Christchurch people thought of that, but rejected it on grounds of inhumanity. They don't want to provoke the teens; the theory is that Manilow will see them off calmly but firmly.

Yeah right (as they say down here).

There also seems to be a level of belief that other people will actually find the music pleasant. I guess some will, but...

I don't know Christchurch's shopping areas myself. I was assuming the story refers to a pedestrianised area, where noise is relatively subdued.

Thinking about it: it seems to me the best answer would be for the businesses to sponsor a live string quartet to perform in the area for a couple of hour-long slots at busy times. That would both lift the cultural tone, and create employment for fine musicians...

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great idea - shop owners to pay buskers, and for the buskers to collect tips too.


Nodressrehearsal said...

Great. Now I've got Copacabana stuck in my head. Nice goin', vet.

vet said...

You're welcome, NDR. Oh wait, that wasn't a "thanks", was it? You're welcome anyway.

S: I'm a firm believer that live music is always preferable to recorded music. The Christchurch people are, if they're being honest, going to have to pay royalties for the music, as well as to install and maintain the speakers; how much better would it be if they paid that money to actual people instead?

Eric Lester said...

I'm particularly enamored of the live performance concept. Providing employment for musicians is a good thing in many ways.

If, however, that's just too much money, how about this: set up karaoke machines stuffed with music from the late 70s. Encourage middle-aged people to "sing." Award prizes.

Imagine being 15 and trying to hang out in an area where your Mom might appear, to belt out "I Wanna Kiss You All Over."

vet said...

Eric, that's perhaps the best suggestion yet. Sufficiently Evil to appeal to just about everyone, and quite possibly profit-making... you could make it a coin-operated karaoke machine...

On the other hand, it might not quite meet the "nice music for a nice area" requirement.