Sunday, March 26, 2006

Loud. Way too loud.

I was visiting the Montgomery Theater in downtown San Jose, California, yesterday afternoon to deliver some photos for an upcoming production of the Johann Strauss operetta Die Fledermaus. The Montgomery is a venerable old place at the south end of a plaza ringed by big hotels, the Tech Museum, and other spots the city fathers (oops, non-inclusive phrase! sorry!) would like you to visit and spend your money at. It's normally a fairly inviting spot, too, as urban spaces go.

However, it's also frequently used for rallies and outdoor concerts, and yesterday was such a day -- Mexican Heritage Day, I think. Unfortunately, outdoor concerts mean only one thing: loud -- really loud -- music. And loud -- sometimes really loud -- spectators.

The bandstand was almost a quarter of a mile away, but I could barely make a cell phone call outside the theater. I don't want to think what the decibel level was at the other end of the plaza. It wasn't helped by the two cars that were blocking traffic, a fifty feet from me, blowing their horns endlessly while waving huge Mexican flags at each other.

The problem is that popular culture firmly endorses the principle that in order for music to be good, it must be as loud as it's possible to make it. And if you're outside and want to hear your music, it's OK to you force anyone within a mile to listen to it too.

Nor will going inside a building always give you some quiet in which you might do something other than the Officially Sanctioned Loudness. I've been in the Montgomery during performances when a band is playing in the plaza, and whenever it's only dialogue from the stage, you hear, faintly, the whump-whump-BOOM, whump-whump-BOOM and the overamped singers from outside, ruining the effect the actors are trying so hard to achieve, and that the audience paid to experience.

Ah, well. Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory.