I was at work on Saturday, doing my thing, when the following thought train came through my station:
‘Music provides an auditory cue, in instances where a group of strangers find themselves sharing space, as to how you should feel. It allows such a group to be comfortable together in such a communal space, without the need to look to each other for emotional cues.’
I feel like I should elucidate a little.
While I was at University I did some work on looking at the role music plays in our lives. It, unlike any other art form, speaks directly to your emotions. There is a long and complicated bit here that I ought to go in to regards musical language, and what that language has come to mean to use, within western society, that affects the way we interpret the sounds we hear. I’m not going to do that, largely as I don’t currently have access to the relevant resources to back up said information (my dissertation lurks on a floppy disk as we speak, along with – I hope – the later part of my second attempt at novel writing, from way back in the noughties).
For those of you experiencing skepticism, I direct you to the reaction (most) people have to film music. It being the most obvious, and culturally pandemic instance of what I’m talking about.
I was thinking in terms of shop music here, obviously, given I work in one. But music in any such ‘public’ situation would function the same. Think of that old cliche, elevator music. What’s it there for, if not to stop everyone in that confined space from feeling uncomfortable? It gives you all something to focus on that isn’t the proximity of so many strangers, even if that focus could be roughly summed up as ‘what is this awful racket?!?’ (A sentiment I hear repeated often where I work – it’s a surprisingly effective ice breaker).
To sum up, the point I’m making here is that the suggestion of how you ‘should feel’ mentioned above is not a personal one. That would be brain washing, and unless I’m missing a trick we’ve not come that far yet. This is not Doll House, or The Happiness Patrol. No, the cue is more of an atmospheric one, intended to suggest an overall mood for the room, discreet from your own state of mind, and (more importantly) buffering it from everybody else’s.
Think of it like an emotional entourage. They keep the riff-raff off, and give you space to do as you please. But you can still engage if you choose to, with a nod to your head of security.