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No Music Day — Preserving the Old Ways from Being Abused?

Today, November 21, has been No Music Day — the third of five annual No Music Days as envisioned by Bill Drummond. Drummond was one of the two founding members of the early techno-rock act KLF, and his No Music Day (nomusicday.com) pretty much speaks for itself. It’s an attempt in our age of ubiquitous music to relieve ourselves of the onslaught and to not put music in its place so much as to return it to a less utilitarian, less ignorable state.

This means not just the music that suffocates us in the form of commercial jingles, but also the musical shell in which we insulate ourselves courtesy of iPod headphones — the immediate descendant of Walkman headphones, for which there had been no such precedent.

The Walkman debuted in 1979, which may be why Drummond’s five-year plan ends on the machine’s 30th anniversary. While many of us have passed today entirely unaware of Drummond’s growing army of headphone-snatchers, appliance un-pluggers, and other sonic martyrs, some institutions have been playing along; BBC Radio Scotland (bbc.co.uk/scotland) went so far as to play no music at all for the full 24 hours — no songs, no intros or outros to news segments.

The event has been covered widely (guardian.co.uk, nytimes.com, scotsman.com), and is seen as both a genuine preservationist gesture on Drummond’s part, and as an art-prank, simply the latest among his many — and not as if the two options are mutually exclusive.

I worry that such attention to a proposed idyllic absence of composed sound might diminish the public’s potential to appreciate the musical properties of the natural and industrial sounds that are all around us. I worry that such nuance, of the sort championed by composers John Cage and R. Murray Schafer, will be lost in the one-note noise of Drummond’s propaganda.

Drummond has certainly succeeded in keeping his message succinct, no doubt fully aware that public statements can be misconstrued easily. Why, a little over a month ago, art by his fellow KLF co-founder, Jimmy Cauty, was removed from the outside of a gallery by municipal workers in Brighton, England. It had been mistaken for graffiti (disquiet.com).

By Marc Weidenbaum

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