Saturday, 18 August 2007

Metal Machine Music

Our microwave gave me a small surprise tonight. Fortunately it wasn't of the "your rice steamer has exploded - enjoy" variety, nor did it offer a trenchant critique of my fretless playing ("Compensating for Intonation through Vibrato", a study in medium-velocity fudging)...rather, it beeped-along pitch-perfectly with Queen's "Somebody to Love" that baby Matthew was bouncing up and down enthusiastically in front of the stereo to. So perfectly, in fact, that I failed to notice it wasn't part of the song for at least 20 seconds (musical faux pas of a serious nature alert)...which got me wondering...

Wouldn't it be great if someone tucked away in the vastness of the manufacturing process was deliberately tuning the sounds these machines make? And if all your appliances were the same brand, if you set them off simultaneously, maybe they'd produce a really interesting chord (Gmin sus4 -9, say?), or even a tune, which might be a coded message to the outside world? perhaps along the lines of "I really hate my dull job here in China, I can speak 6 languages and have a p.h.d. in biomechanics, please help!" in hemi-semi-demi-quavers? Who knows??

Anyway, calming down again for a moment, this then moved on to a subsidiary strand of suspect sonic speculation...we've been promised 'talking' appliances/devices in our homes for years (decades?) now. But if you aren't Bill Gates (and every night he thanks his lucky stars I'm not), these have singularly failed to appear in my local Comet store - and the few examples that were tried (e.g. talking cars) have simply been so bloody irritating that they were scrapped.

So why can't we have 'customisable' machine sounds instead? We can download umpteen thousand 'themes' and sound schemes onto our computers, so how about extending it to the rest of our stuff? Personally, I'd love to have a smoke alarm that belted out "Fire" by Arthur Brown at 130db rather than just screeching tunelessly at me whenever it's battery needs changed. And you could set up the entire kitchen with complimentary pieces/styles - the toaster plays that unforgettable 4-note melody from Beethoven's 5th ("your-toast-is-done, your-toast-is-done"), while the washing machine tells you its cycle's finished with the jaunty tones of Handel's "Water Music" (apologies - it was there!).

Ah, but then my mind returned from this delightful world of musical gadgetry with the crashing recollection that it HAS been done already, inescapably, to a vast proportion of the planet's population. And the result has been an aural horror without compare....

I give you....


Errrrrrrr...right. Ok. Probably best we just left well alone then, eh? 'Crazy Frog' oven timer, anyone? (sadly, someone probably would pay good money for just such a thing - hell, plenty of folk pay through the nose for Gwen Stefani concert tickets, so there's clearly never any accounting for taste!)

Still, I can't help feeling a little bit sorry for that poor oppressed hypothetical Chinese person. What might they have achieved with my microwave's beep, if only they'd had some King Crimson to listen to, hmm? Alas, we may never know...(tumble dryer starts up the theme from the "Twilight Zone")...or WILL we?

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