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No escape from background music – a pain in the ear

No escape from background music – a pain in the ear

February 13, 2007


HEARING-AID wearers of the world, unite! Join me in my mission to ban background music, which plagues our hearing in all walks of life. A stroll around Circular Quay has turned into a cacophony of buskers vying for our attention, making it an impossible venue for chatting with friends.

TV has its own difficulty, as the background music is built into the program. Good background music serves as a mood-enhancer but should be imperceptible. This is hardly ever the case these days, when the music tends to outblare the narration. Travel programs are special culprits. The noise of racing vehicles and busy marketplaces, mingled with the strains of local musicians, drowns the presenters, in spite of their shouting.

Many a time have I felt compelled to press the mute button to escape into peace and quiet. And wouldn’t it be handy if restaurants had mute buttons? There the background music only brings about the need for everyone to talk loudly, so they turn up the music, until it all becomes an audio nightmare. This affects all patrons, but more so the unfortunate wearers of hearing aids. These contraptions of the devil promise to cut down on background noise in favour of spoken words but, in practice, it turns out to be a myth.

When using the phone, we are likely to encounter the opposite effect, just as maddening (also a free-for-all). We ring an organisation, wanting a simple query answered. We are put on hold. We are lulled into patience by some soothing music. Just as we sink into the enjoyment, the music is interrupted with the announcement: “We apologise for the delay. You are advancing in the queue.” So reassuring. Then the music resumes and the scenario repeats itself.

After five or six repetitions, is it any wonder that you slam down the receiver in disgust?

Even private dinner parties are not immune to this blight. Your hosts have to show off their latest hi-fi equipment. What better than their classical favourites? You, who happen to be a music lover, get captivated by the music but are unable to take part in the conversation, or vice versa – either way ending up frustrated.

Hearing-aid manufacturers have been competing in their race to solve the problem of background noise but so far the enemy has proved too powerful to beat. Scores of wearers will attest to this, no matter how many thousands they have spent. When you complain about your own difficulties, you often get the resigned reply, join the club.

Come, let’s rally in protest marches and make Ban Background Music a worldwide movement.

Readers are invited to send 450 words on what makes their blood boil to heckler@smh.com.au. Include your phone details. Submissions may be edited and published on the internet.