When was the last time you heard, and enjoyed, silence?
The background of our lives is inherently noisy: cars, construction, machines, videos, phones, chatter, air conditioning. Noise is there almost all the time. It is aggressive and repetitive. After all, there is such a thing as “sound torture” – playing loud music or noise continuously to prisoners to break their will and disturb their mental health. It’s a torment. Our brains and ears need regular rest, to recuperate, appreciate and think clearly. In order to relax truly and deeply, we need silence.
But it is a rarity – a luxury, even. it seems every space is invaded invaded by loud background music – even in the places where we go to “relax.”
A sunset drink by the beach is no longer a chance to lay back and enjoy the gentle sound of the waves, as it will inevitably be drowned out by booming music. A dinner out with friends means either having to shout your conversation throughout the whole evening, or making sure you’ve finished by 8pm before the music gets cranked up or the DJ comes on. (By the way, what is it with this new trend for having a loud DJ AND a loud live saxophone at th same time?) A Saturday lunchtime pizza feels like you’ve gone clubbing and lounging in a café or by a pool mens you’re forced to share someone else’s music or video call on speakers. They’ve even turned the volume up on elevator music.
The loudness trend is everywhere. Who decided that eating in a beautiful restaurant in the French Alps surrounded by breathtaking views wild be enhanced by loud dance music? I’ve had breakfast in hotels with electric guitar songs playing at 9am. The loud music in shops means the staff and I constantly have to repeat ourselves (the face masks don’t help, either.).
Friday brunch is just a cacophony. Boom-boom-boom in the background. Actually, in the foreground. All. The. Time. Everywhere.
Can we tone it down a notch? Does everywhere have to feel like we’re in a club all the time?
Don’t get me wrong: I love a lively place. I love music. I love dancing, having fun, singing loudly. But I want to be able to choose if and when I want that kind of vibe. I want the option of a quiet place outside of my own home. I want a respite from loudness but there is almost zero chance of getting it. Loud music is everywhere, regardless of context.
I’m afraid that I might be quite alone in my pursuit. I have been called a dictator for asking people next to me at the beach to switch off their music. The quiet places I loved to go to have started employing a DJ. Restaurant staff invariably tell me they can’t change the music or lower the volume because it’s part of the “concept” of the place. They’re not allowed to change it even though (they add with lowered voices) many customers have complained.
In my view, the smart “concept” is when the music fits the location, the ambience, the time of day and the crowd. I don’t enjoy hearing other people’s videos or phone conversations or having their personal music choices foisted on me. I don’t enjoy having a meal out with friends turning into a shouting match.
Is loud music supposed to make us feel younger, cooler, more hip? Is it supposed to induce us to consume more, to have that extra drink or buy that extra pair of shoes? Does quiet equal boring?
Of course, you don’t always need a calm setting to enjoy yourself or relax and if liveliness is what you’re after, there is no shortage of places (and you might well see me there). But where do you go if you just want to let your hair down and breathe in peace and tranquility?
However, I fear the forces of fashion are against me. So to those who feel as I do, I can only suggest this: next time you go, say, to the beach, listen to the silence in your head, listen to the waves, feel the breeze on your face, dig your feet into the sand, lay down on your lounger, let a big breath out, take a sip of your fresh drink and gaze at the clear sky and the blue sea.
There, that’s silence.
Elisabeth Cardoso lives in Abu Dhabi. She has been practicing meditation and Pilates for a few years. She works as an ambassador and is also interested generally in well-being and human interest subjects and stories.