Why is it that retailers, bars, and even swimming pools, seem to demand a soundtrack? It seems to be a feature of our built, urban environments that spaces have music. Constantly.


Why has this happened? Why have we got to the point where almost all retailers insist on a soundtrack for their premises? And its not like a lot of this is an afterthought. Music systems seem integrated into shop fit outs and designs.

And there are some interesting questions here. For example, we know that there is a lot of psychology research into retail layouts; arrangements of goods, shelving, etc, that encourage people to buy more. Is music, and the choice of music, part of this matrix that channels people to purchase stuff? Is it just another lubricant to the retail economy?

But a lot of this is fuelled by my personal annoyance. I don’t like your music. I don’t like your store’s choice of soundtrack. I particularly loathe your need to force me to shout over what some bar manager/corporate flunky or staff member*,  thinks is the soundtrack of the moment.

Recently I did ask that a shop turn down their music. My partner and I were discussing a decorating/renovating purchase, and we seemed to be forced to make this choice by talking loudly to each other over music we didn’t like. It took them by surprise, but they complied. Maybe more people should just ask to turn it down.

This need for a constant soundtrack in our lives is aggravated by the whole headphone thing. Again this obsessive need to pump music into our lives. I understand some of this. I wear headphones under some circumstances myself. Noise cancelling ones. Very obvious ones that sort of hopefully say no, I don’t want to talk to you while I am on this plane thanks.

But there seems a generation that has music pumped in constantly. How does this structure and inform their world? I suspect this obsessive need for a personal soundtrack via headphones means people are unengaged with the world, and not just in a “please don’t talk to me, I am listening to music” kind of way, but in a unplanned way. An example:  When we lived on Evans Bay Parade we could see the harbour, and we could on occasion see the animal visitors to our corner of it. Seabirds of various descriptions, including the rare the occasional glimpse of a penguin, a seal wrestling with a octopus, dolphins in the distance, and once, quite close in, Orca. New Zealand Orca hunt stingrays in the shallows, and so they pop into Wellington harbour, do a circuit, round the shallows looking for stingrays, or just mucking around, and then head off. The incident of relevance to this post is when a large adult cruised into the shallows, and rolled to one side, so that their eye was above the water. What the Orca was apparently looking at was a young man strolling along the footpath. With headphones on. Oblivious. He wandered on, with absolutely no clue that he had just missed making eye contact with a dolphin** the size of a bus. Off in his own world, with his own personal soundtrack to make him feel good.

The thought that that could have happened to me, that I would be so wrapped up in a world of a soundtrack that I could miss something actually quite amazing like making eye contact with an orca actually worries me. Quite apart from missing the sound of an oncoming bus the size of an Orca.

*or whichever staff members turn it is. It does seem sometimes that staff often use this as an opportunity to play each other music, with the customers as something of an afterthought. But this should be a topic of another post.

**Orca are members of the dolphin family, rather than whales. I think.

Categories: Misanthropy


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