INSIDE THE CRYSTAL Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851, Charlotte Bronte heard the sound of the people in a state of oceanic calm:
Not everyone was impressed; Marx and Dostoevsky disdained what the Crystal Palace and its contents represented. Shopping centres are today’s Great Exhibitions and, as before, some people don’t like them. George A. Romero paid shoppers no compliments in his 1978 zombie film Dawn of the Dead, and parodied mall-muzak by repeating Herbert Chappell’s idiotically cheerful tune The Gonk. You can hear it on this YouTube video.
London’s shopping centres differ in their ambient sounds. The newish Westfield Centre in Shepherds Bush lays on live music of a polite kind, fresh-faced cello players and such like. The Elephant and Castle shopping centre is smaller and livelier, and once I was surprised to hear the bleating of sheep and goats. Animals from a city farm had been brought in for the day for children to look at. Nowhere seems to use piped music throughout the whole building; that’s old hat.
Bluewater, near Dartford, approaches the peace of Bronte’s Great Exhibition:
No announcements come over any tannoy and none of the shop units play loud music. Someone, somewhere, has decreed that nothing must overwhelm the reassuring hubbub of voices gathered beneath the skylights of Bluewater.