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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Could you turn it down a bit? It's not big and it's not clever.

Loud music is a bit like free speech. Take it just that tiny bit too far and you want to kill someone.

Mark Ellen and I were talking to Katherine Whitehorn about loud music. As a member of the pre-rock and roll generation, she was keen to know what people of the rock and roll generation thought about the fact that everywhere we go nowadays we are exposed to music at a level that would have considered intolerable to the people who'd got their idea of noise from hearing actual munitions being dropped on their heads.

It was very difficult to get over how we felt. Obviously we have spent the last thirty years with headphones clamped to our ears and thereby we are by any measure clinically deaf. Nevertheless in the last few years even I have been forced to beat a retreat from both live gigs and clubs where the level of the music was actually making me feel ill. I cannot imagine what it would do to somebody of Katherine's generation. I have left branches of Abercrombie & Fitch with teenage shopping list unfulfilled thanks to the hammering my ribcage was taking from the sound waves coming from the speakers.

The world must be getting louder and people must be getting deafer. There is no other explanation.Loudness is a form of inflation that has been raging for years. It is driven not just by technology but also by humanity's incorrect belief that there is a notch on the volume knob which, once achieved, will bring about a massive explosion of human delight. They are all seeking this plateau of delirium. It never happens. It doesn't exist. Delight comes from within, not without.

In shops the rising tide of volume is driven by the staff. They are bored out of their minds and play music loud in order to persuade themselves that they work in a club and not a haberdashery. At office parties it's driven by people who have drunk slightly more than everyone else and believe that cranking the "sounds" up sufficiently will make everyone else do the thing they don't actually dare do themselves - dance. Party goers try to make themselves heard by talking louder. DJs respond by turning it up even louder. Far from increasing the sum of human happiness in the room they clearly reduce it and inevitably shorten the party.

I have talked to a number of people about the recent Leonard Cohen shows. The praise they universally volunteer is this. "It wasn't *loud*." Is it possible that this marks the moment the worm turns?