Making Music Public Again

Unless you’ve been living in a cave with your fingers in your ears for the past 10 years, you have heard of, and probably own, an MP3 player or an iPod. In case you’re curious, Apple Inc. has sold over 150 million iPods since they went on sale in 2001. The little devices make up approximately 40% of Apple Inc.’s net profits which, in case you’re still curious, were $1.58 billion after the quarter of 2008. Remember, that’s net profits and only for the first three months of the year.

Personally, I love music and being able to take it with me. I own a 1 GB MP3 player. The controls are annoyingly small, as is the screen, but it plays music fine. I mostly use it for drumming along to songs, since my old portable CD player kept skipping when I’d hit the bass drum. My MP3 player has also come in handy on the occasional long trip, although it’s on those trips I usually regret not buying a model with more storage space so I can store my entire music collection on the device at once.

Purely as an invention, I think that iPods and MP3 players are great. You can carry around all your music in your pocket and never have to worry about the tunes skipping since there’s no moving parts. This also means you can drop them on the ground and they will usually be okay. They’re especially great for joggers and for people who ride public transit to work every day. Plus, as with all new technologies, they keep getting cheaper. For example, the first iPods cost $400 for a 5 GB model. Now a 160 GB iPod classic can be had for $340 (by the way, since when does a 7-year-old product get the term “classic”?). But, as with any technology, we tend to take things too far. I am starting to notice some of the ridiculous ways we use technology. In some cases, I can’t help but laugh and shake my head. Take a minute right now to read this newspaper article, for example.

The Free Press article above has prompted this post. I am writing this to draw the line. This is too far and I have seen enough! I may not be highly educated or an experienced social commentator, but I know ridiculous when I see it.

Silent raves are completely ridiculous, and I will happily argue this point with those who disagree. It’s not that they are ridiculous not from a purely practical standpoint. After all, these kids could instead be gathering together to shoot up cocaine, get drunk or shoplift. (Still though, I don’t see how silent raves are any less prone to drug use than regular raves are.) Instead, silent raves are ridiculous from a moral and social standpoint. Just one reason: they are individualistic. They place the individual at the center of everything. These kids no longer have to listen to a song they don’t like at a party since everyone is listening to his or her customized playlist on their iPod or MP3 player. That’s not right. Music should not just be what you put on your iPod or MP3 player. What’s more, social contact at these raves is more likely to be void of meaningful conversation, or really of any social interaction that goes deeper than a nonchalant “how’s it going?” since everybody’s busy dancing to their own preferred music.

Interestingly, the article completely cops out by steering clear of outlining any of the possible social affects silent raves could have, whether positive or negative. Instead, it rambles on about “art” and “dance” and how silent raves can be an expression of these things. But could someone explain to me how people listening to techno at 200 beats-per-minute and other people listening to county at 60 beats-per-minute are supposed to dance together? And is this really the best way of expressing art and dance that we can think of? Surely we can do better.

Silent raves privatize and trivialize music. But music should be public, not private. When I hear good music, I want to share it with friends, and I enjoy it when they share music with me. The point isn’t to get each other to listen to the exact same music as me, or vice versa. Of course, I know which music I like and which I don’t like, but I will never fault someone for playing me some music they like if I can tell that they truly do want to share it simply because they like it so much. At least it shows they are thinking of more than themself.

The point is, however, to enjoy something that can be larger than just one person’s headphones, something that can positively affect more than just me. There is a social aspect to music that is important and we should work hard to conserve this. Concerts, for example, are social events. I couldn’t imagine going to a concert by myself. I love taking in a great concert with friends and talking about it afterwards. These conversations always produce good memories which would not trade for anything, and which also wouldn’t exist if I attended by myself.

Music is, as Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip quipped, “melodious air”. Music, then, like air, should not be limited to my headphones and my ears. It should be experienced together. Silent raves make about as much sense to me as being the only audience member at a show. And lest you think that would be cool, think about it some more. I think you’ll find it would be much cooler if others were there to experience it with you.

My advice to these silent ravers is to take out their headphones, plug in some speakers, and listen to music the way it was meant to be experienced: together with other people. In the article, the 18-year-old organizer of one of the silent raves is quoted as saying, “There have been a few negative comments but they’re all from balding, middle-aged men who are angry at the world.” Well, I have news for him. I have a full head of hair, I am twenty years old and I am not angry at the world. Actually, I have some hope for the world. That is, if it quits organizing silent raves.


  1. while i totally agree with you, i would really like to witness one of these raves. sounds like it would be HILARIOUS to watch. oh man. i should check youtube…


  2. WOW! I whole heartedly agree with you Jordan. I had never heard of silent raves and I’m shocked and amazed that they exist. Music is something to be shared and experienced together…just as you said. On a somewhat similar sidenote…Mark Driscoll talks about a prayer labyrinth that many churches or groups are using these days. I have, in fact, been apart of one and found it extreemly odd as a christian. Anywho, he goes on to say that being a christian one should start from the center and move further and further outward. The labyrinth teaches the opposite…that one should start from the outward and move further and further inward. The silent rave remindes me of this. Raves were initially intended for people who shared a passion for dance and a similar kind of music to come together and be a community. They were moving from the inward to the outward. A silent rave is indeed taking a number of steps backward when one looks at community and it’s purpose in society. That’s my opinion at least. Odd.


  3. I think we should have silent concerts . . . then everyone could pretend to hear the band they really wanted to see. Just a thought :-)-Martin


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