Which Noise Annoys?
Noise! It’s the mot du jour after Westminster Council pulled the plug on Bruce Springsteen the other night, leaving him to continue without amplification because the concert’s licence allows amplified music until 10:30pm only. Now, I can see that Brucie has brought pleasure to millions of elderly deaf people around the world, but should he have been allowed to disturb the slumber of others (not that anyone goes to bed at that time around here)?
After Twitter turned red with outrage, the BBC ran a spot-check on complaints and found that (and this is separate to professional concerts like Springsteen’s), people across the country were sick of having every holiday and festival turned into an excuse for nights of bad amplified rock sponsored by local councils.
Last Saturday night we got a new town square. At the moment, Granary Square is little more than a windswept concrete plain full of fountain jets, but to launch it we had an incredibly amplified concert. There was hardly anyone there because of course it was howling with rain, but never mind, I was able to enjoy it until midnight in my kitchen, lounge and bedroom, and I was pretty far away. I love live music, but the only reason for amplifying it so much is to cram in lots more punters.
The first time I went to the theatre in Los Angeles, I found myself sitting in some kind of agoraphobia-inducing football-pitch-sized stadium, which was hilariously because it was Ibsen. The cast wore throat mikes so they could be heard thirty miles away.
In London, theatres are mostly like town-houses, narrow and tall so that sight lines remain good and voices can travel upwards. Sit in the Gods and you can hear just as well as in the stalls, without amplification. But hey, guess what every actor now wears in these intimate venues? Yes, you can see an ‘Importance of Being Ernest’ in which Lady Bracknell has a mic taped to her forehead.
Opposite my kitchen window are two classical concert halls which manage nightly performances without amplification, and host ‘silent discos’ wherein everyone is electronically connected. I regularly do readings where I’m given a mic, but I tend not to use them. They’re more trouble than they’re worth, thanks to the fact that the sound engineer is usually the lady who runs the children’s library.
I love most forms of modern music from rap to hard house but one of the most penetrating sounds I ever heard was from the Michael Nyman Band, busking in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall. They were playing raucously without amplification. I’d always considered modern ‘classical’ music either too abstract and cerebral for my tastes, but here was a disciplined group sweating, sawing and hammering out a raw sound capable of stopping passers-by dead in their tracks.
What a great challenge it would be to tell performers that their next gig is limited in size and unamplified. Who knows what they’d come up with?