Impending muzak rage on the Metro


By Philippa Kennedy

The cellist Julian Lloyd Webber once described piped music as “an insidious cancer that has spread throughout society”.

Dubai metro
Dubai metro

It’s almost impossible to get away from it in shops, hotels, airports and everywhere that there are large numbers of people coming and going. For many, it’s the single most irritating thing about modern life.

There’s even a word for it: muzak, a term coined for the ubiquitous acoustic wallpaper that is so hard to escape. In most countries, it hasn’t yet reached the transport system. Passengers have enough to contend with on jam-packed underground carriages during the rush hour without having to listen to tinny versions of popular classics on a loop.

Our very own Dubai Metro, however, is an exception. The RTA has inflicted a never-ending rendition of unrecognisable electronic muzak on its travellers and – guess what? – they don’t like it.

After my first trip on the Metro in September I wrote about how the piped music began to grate after about 40 minutes. I thought perhaps we only noticed it because we were delayed for that length of time in the early days when such glitches were common. Stuck on a stationary train with no prospect of imminent movement, it was no wonder it got on our nerves. Now it seems that it’s driving daily commuters potty.

Presumably the thinking behind it is that music has a calming effect. Well maybe music does, but muzak has entirely the opposite effect, especially when there seems to be only one tune.

People with hearing problems say it aggravates their condition, making conversation impossible. Even without hearing problems it can cause my blood pressure to soar a few notches and I have to resist the temptation to throw something at the speakers wherever I am. What’s wrong with silence, I ask myself? Are we all going to be forced to plug ourselves into our iPods in order to escape this infernal racket? And if we haven’t got an iPod, we’re going to have to listen to the echoes of someone else’s music player, which is even more irritating than the canned music itself.

There’s actually an online lobbying group called Pipedown that campaigns rather successfully against piped music in the UK. Maybe we should start a branch in the UAE to try to persuade the RTA to change its tune or just turn it off.

If it insists on having it, then the RTA should take pity on its unsuspecting customers and give them some variety, perhaps use the work of local musicians or even let buskers on the trains. Otherwise, it won’t be long before we get the first instances of muzak rage, with maddened commuters clutching their ears and storming through the carriages looking for the off switch.

I may well be one of them.