Monday, November 22, 2010

No Music Day, 2010: the sound and the fury of silence

(Photo by Tracey Moberly at Beach Head, UK, 2007)

In 2004 Bill Drummond had an idea that was simplicity itself: November 21 would be celebrated as No Music Day in a five-year plan to reconsider the meaning of music's all-encompassing grasp -- suggesting for one day a year that (non-)participants cease its performance, recording, sale, broadcasting, and downloading around the world.

Then he asked people to share their experience and contribute their statements to the No Music Day website about the day when "iPods will be left at home / rock bands will not rock ... jingles will not jangle / milkmen will not whistle / choirboys will shut their mouths."

The date of November 21 was chosen in a symbolic gesture to the November 22 feast day of St. Cecelia, the patron saint of music and musicians, a kind of "fast before the feast," as one post commented.

(busker observing No Music Day 2008, São Paulo, Brazil)

Drummond's one-man effort had surprising reach; in 2007 BBC Radio Scotland broadcast no music all day, an example of art combining with commerce in a kind of statement almost unimaginable in the United States. Four million listeners were outraged, amused, or annoyed by Radio Scotland's music ban -- and some even suggested more of the same. From the site:
"For the 24 hours of No Music Day 2007 the station played no music. This not only included the music that would have been played on the scheduled music programmes but all the station idents and jingles. Many listeners complained and made it known that they would be spending the day listening to rival stations for the day. Other listeners asked if they could have a no music day once a week."
Over the years participants who contributed statements to Drummond's website revealed a wide range of reasons for not listening to music on that day: "when you are drowning in something it's best to absorb as little of it as possible" was one, "it will remind me how important conversation, silence and music really are" was another. Perhaps the most telling comment of those who chose not to listen was summed up by one post, which bluntly acknowledged "the need to silence the infernal music continually circling my mind."

2010  Notice

2009 marked the end of the original five-year plan, and this year Drummond opened the concept to anyone to do with it as they wished -- a generous, if extremely fine-drawn distinction from years past. Drummond will include these future projects on the No Music Day site.

With the holidays rapidly approaching and the never-ending chorus of recorded ho-ho-ho about to drown us all, it might be a good time to set aside a few minutes to turn it all off and at least dream about celebrating next year's No Music Day 2011. That's an entire year's worth of opportunity ahead: for information and to submit ideas, contact Bill Drummond at

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