As my vacation ends, I’m glad I chose a final hotel that didn’t pump music around itself like some kind of aural pollution zone. Why would any hotelier think it was a good idea to have a terrible country and western duo play Willie Nelson covers all evening, very loudly, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, as my last hotel did? All I can hear right now is tree frogs and cicadas. I’d share the sound with you if I could figure out how to get the MP3 file from my other travelling device to this laptop without the right cable.
Hotels believe that bad music is better than no music. I feel sorry for the talented Caribbean musicians who have to nightly play ‘Yellow Bird’ to an audience of glum, disinterested diners. I once sat in a hotel in Geneva, one of the world’s most depressing cities, while an ancient dinner pianist picked his way through selections from ‘The Sound of Music’ three times in a row.
London used to have a horrible chain of tourist venues called Henekey Inns that featured nightly deafening Mockney knees-ups. Mercifully they’ve gone, but we’re still cursed with other vile sounds; we have the 6:00am wake-up call of ambulance sirens, just as NYC can’t curb its car honks no matter how hard it tries. And Italy – Jeez, what is it about Italians that they have to fill any dead spot in the air with mobile phone chatter, bad Europop and revving engines?
Every country has enough of its own noises, so there’s no need to add to them with piped-in music. And can we call a moratorium on Hotel Costes and Buddha Bar albums in cocktail bars? I never need to hear Bebel Gilberto or identical dubmixes from Stephane Pompougnac ever again.
One charming sound has appeared in London’s St Pancras station – they’ve put a piano on the concourse, and I’ve been shocked at how many passengers can play beautifully. Lunchtimes there often turn into impromptu concerts – although you always get one mother who allows her talentless child to hammer the keyboard randomly.
The phone app iSay was developed by Durham University to make a sound-map of the world – all you do is load it to your phone and record for 30 seconds, then mail the sounds to them – a lovely idea. I keep sound files in London of places where I’ve been. My favourite is from a band of wedding musicians practising during a rainstorm in Sri Lanka – a distant, melancholy sound that captured the moment better than a photograph.