Noise


When I arrived in Oxford to deliver New College School’s annual ‘Holloway Lecture’, headmaster Matthew Jenkinson mysteriously led me out of the School and some way up Mansfield Road towards the University Science departments, eventually entering the Inorganic Chemistry Lab (pictured). This turned out to be where I was to deliver my talk on the theme of Noise – beneath a giant board displaying the Periodic Table (I think.)

Despite the help of some kind people from the Lab, the small, roof-height speakers in this very spacious old lecture hall were not really up to the task of diffusing my supercharged sound files, which included Xenakis (Diamorphoses) and Einstürzende Neubaten, plus a lot of incidental noise, traffic and so on, recorded on my phone recently. I hope I will get another chance one day to speak about the important and often troubling subject of Noise. I was able at least to introduce my hearers to that noble institution Pipedown and to the helpful (for us already hard-of-hearing oldies) app Soundprint, which points you to quiet spaces in bars and restaurants.

Since it used to drive my dear colleague Sir Peter Maxwell Davies incandescent with rage, I felt I must must raise the subject of unwanted music in restaurants and lifts. At the end of the talk, one of my charming audience mentioned that one of the two people accredited with the invention of the barcode was an engineer named Joseph Woodland. Prior to his barcode days, Woodland invented a new method of supplying music to elevators, around which he planned to start a business, until his father insisted to him that he must find another profession because elevator music was controlled by the Mob. I’m sure Sir PMD wouldn’t be surprised by that assertion, which is certainly going in the talk the next time I give it.

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JUDITH WEIR

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© Judith Weir, 2020