Weaponized Classical Music

Bach at the Burger King

At The Corner of 8th and Market in San Francisco, by a shuttered subway escalator outside a Burger King, an unusual soundtrack plays. A beige speaker, mounted atop a tall window, blasts Baroque harpsichord at deafening volumes. The music never stops. Night and day, Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi rain down from Burger King rooftops onto empty streets.

Empty streets, however, are the target audience for this concert. The playlist has been selected to repel sidewalk listeners -- specifically, the mid-Market homeless who once congregated outside the restaurant doors that served as a neighborhood hub for the indigent. [...]

This tactic was suggested by a cryptic organization called the Central Market Community Benefit District, a nonprofit collective of neighborhood property owners whose mission statement strikes an Orwellian note: "The CMCBD makes the Central Market area a safer, more attractive, more desirable place to work, live, shop, locate a business and own property by delivering services beyond those the City of San Francisco can provide." These supra-civic services seem to consist primarily of finding tasteful ways to displace the destitute. [...]

Baroque music seems to make the most potent repellant. "[D]espite a few assertive, late-Romantic exceptions like Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff," notes critic Scott Timberg, "the music used to scatter hoodlums is pre-Romantic, by Baroque or Classical-era composers such as Vivaldi or Mozart." Public administrators seldom speculate on the underlying reasons why the music is so effective but often tout the results with a certain pugnacious pride. [...]

One London subway observer voiced the punitive mindset behind the strategy in bluntest terms: "These juvenile delinquents are saying 'Well, we can either stand here and listen to what we regard as this absolute rubbish, or our alternative -- we can, you know, take our delinquency elsewhere.'"

Take your delinquency elsewhere could be the subtext under every tune in the classical crime-fighting movement. It is crucial to remember that the tactic does not aim to stop or even necessarily reduce crime -- but to relocate it. [...]

Thus music returns to its oldest evolutionary function: claiming territory.

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7 Responses:

  1. Will says:

    That may explain the jaunty Haydn and Vivaldi piped into the subway at the Euston Square tube

  2. MattyJ says:

    I have a very limited sample size of one lap around the block, but I can attest to the grating sound coming from the speaker(s) (the one on the Market side of Burger King is not turned on at the moment, perhaps the roller parked on the sidewalk is o more effective disbursement tool.)

    I would posit that the assertion of it being the style of music that affects the corner-dwellers is not correct, but it's the 150 db of sound coming out of what looks to be an 80's vintage bullhorn that is the real villain here.

  3. emacsomancer says:

    Baroque music often involves a lot of dissonance - which makes it much more interesting than Classical music - but that could be part of it.

    But MattyJ's suggestion about the volume could be the real key.

  4. bibulb says:

    Hrm. Maybe time for the young folk to show their piqued interest in historical music by performing a reenactment of the audience response to "Rite of Spring"?

  5. bq Mackintosh says:

    This has been around for a long time. When I lived in Germany in the late 80's and early 90's, a common (and amazingly effective) form of junkie repellant was unceasing oom-pah music.

  6. tobias says:

    As an attorney I advise the able to find an ingress and make this a public good, a wireless solar powered jukebox.

  7. apunkt says:

    At Hamburg central station, the german Bundesbahn played classical music for twelve years, but now they've stopped doing that:


    Seems like chill out music actually makes for a better shopping mood, which is better for the stores in the train station. Also, an other article pretty much says better cleaning, more police and especially support through official spaces for drug users with needle exchange and social workers made the junkies leave the train station anyways.


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