For the number of people walking around with buds stuck in their ears, there should be no audience of consumers left to hear the blather of advertising and music that are projected onto the city of Middletown every day. It is nearly impossible to go about an average day without some audio intrusion.
I am not talking about the everyday city life noises: vehicles, “walk sign is on” alerts, sirens, horns, construction, church bells, etc. I am talking about the carefully placed intrusions of video screens at gas station pumps, music piped from buildings or restaurants on to sidewalks, and city-sanctioned canned music at the South Green.
About eighteen months ago, Middletown installed black posts along the walkways and sidewalks of the South Green that are a combination of low-level LED lights for illumination and speakers to broadcast soft music 14 hours every day. Canned music does not belong on the South Green. This oasis is surrounded by the hospital, Wesleyan, various offices and businesses – places that employ people who might like to leave their office at lunch time to find quiet time in the park. That is no longer possible.
Public Works Director, Bill Russo explained the lights were added after area residents complained of poor lighting in the park and the adjoining crosswalks. The idea of the music was to create a calming atmosphere while at the same time creating noise. “People don’t like noise,” Russo said. Exactly! People don’t like noise, especially excessive, inorganic noise, in parks.
Spending time outdoors can contribute to a plethora of good feelings, from relief of depression and stress symptoms to simply experiencing a bit of nature and feeling revived and refreshed. I would argue that outdoor time should be quiet time. When I go to a park, I want to observe and listen to the sounds of nature -- the twitter of live birds, scampering squirrels and people-watching. If I choose to listen to music, I prefer it to be my musical choice for my ears only, not that which someone else has decided I should be subjected.
From a safety standpoint, Russo said the noise deters unwanted behavior, such as loitering, or other unruly actions. I understand that. Music is also played in the pedestrian tunnel that runs under Route 9 from Melilli Plaza to Harbor Park. In this confined space, were I to linger longer than required to simply traverse from point A to point B, the noise would certainly reverberate and echo enough to drive me away.
From a marketing standpoint, I understand the video screens at gas pumps. With the pay-at-thepump revolution, convenience store owners want to lure customers inside. Music broadcast across the entire span of the establishment will include plugs for the store’s specials, and videos will play to a captive audience, ostensibly offering news updates disguised as advertising.
And I understand outdoor music at restaurants, especially those with sidewalk seating. Although, one might argue the City’s tactic of music as noise may actually deter patrons from restaurants. I think of Eli Cannon’s, which blasts music into the North End and through the closed windows of passing cars. (The subtle “background noise” at Amici’s is just about perfect. Barely discernible, it actually does enhance the dining experience, since it is possible to have a normal-volume conversation while dining.)
From an aesthetic standpoint, I cannot understand canned music on the South Green. A place set aside years ago for public gathering, it generates its own entertainment, from games of Frisbee to family picnics to occasional buskers. People go to the park for entertainment, not to be entertained.
We are a society of short attention spans and an expectation of outside stimulation, as though if left to our own devices we could not figure out how to pass an hour sitting on a park bench. Some people do not want to be alone with their own thoughts, but some of us relish that time. I relish that time. That time when I simply experience my surroundings, absorbing the no-ad, no-music moments.
John Grossmann and Gordon Hempton, co-authors of the book “One Square Inch of Silence” have said, “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.”
Music is wonderful and inspiring and healing, but please, keep it out of parks meant to give us natural respite. The sounds of the city are hard to escape, but if we keep piling on the noise, pretty soon it might all become one big din, too much to digest and it will eat away at our own inner silence.