Music as a weapon

March 13, 2008


I remember living in slums (now expensive condos) in Boston while going to the New England Conservatory. My apartment building shared an alley with drug dealers and prostitutes, so we heard a LOT of noise in those days. The second day I lived there the abandoned place across the street where many of those people lived burned, and five of them died. Welcome to Boston, Roger. Rent was $75 a week. There was a woman who always sat on the front steps next door and greeted us as we left or came home “bl*job-fa-bucks.” She had her top and bottom front teeth missing. Ah culture!

It wasn’t that long ago that those neighbors carried around enormous cassette machines, then called “ghetto blasters” — a name that has faded away but said what it did. A guy was increasingly cool depending on how loud and obnoxious his boom box (the new term) was. Eventually they put signs on buses banning them.

At any rate, one night at 2:30 in the morning a pimp and one of his girls started fighting. They turned up Donna Summers’ latest album beyond loud. Everyone was sticking their head out windows saying SHUT UP! and KNOCK IT OFF to no avail. Nerd music major Roger Bourland decides to fight fire with fire. I found my Morton Subotnick TOUCH album, put the speakers in my window and cranked it. It didn’t work. It just made my neighbors crankier.

A few years before that, we had some neighbors over for dinner. And they wouldn’t go home. Yawning, stretching, looking at the clock or referring to that early music theory class tomorrow didn’t work. But mentioning music gave me an idea of how to get rid of them. I put on Arnold Schoenberg’s PIERROT LUNAIRE, guaranteed to send a novice shrieking to the door. It worked!, Ok it took three songs in, but it worked.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad Wood March 13, 2008 at 9:20 am

A favorite New Yorker cartoon some years back: A man with an enormous ghetto blaster walks by another man on the street. The boom box is pumping out “Push! Push! In the bush!” The thought ballon from the other man: “They’re writing songs of love, but not for me…”

Once I was prompted to work on a Very Illegal Thing for Alden Ashforth—something to jam the across-the-street neighbors’ AM radio, who were fans of that oompah-pah south-of-the-border style and played it blasting from incredibly distorting speakers in the open doors of their trucks. Alden also contemplated arranging horn drivers along the side of his house and beaming Varese at them.

Things were going well in preliminary testing: the transmitter was offset 3.33kHz from the KWKW carrier, thus producing a loud whine at that frequency as well as incredible heterodyne artifacts beating with the program material—truly hideous-sounding. But probably fortunate for us all from the legal standpoint, the neighbors switched to cassettes, against which no sub-nuclear remedy would suffice.

Rosa March 13, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Well, not everything Mort wrote in the past was solid gold. He once insisted on giving a lesson outside the cafeteria, writing to me that “the sun was out”. How I wished that had happened! We did meet for our lesson outside the cafeteria, however. The real lesson: don’t smoke. Over $20,000 a year for a cup of coffee with a world famous composer – duped. Relatively nice guy, though.

There’s always 4′ 33” – that might get the people moving.

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