Thud, thud, thud, the neighbours are cranking up the stereo again

by Stephen Ross
First Published: New Zealand Herald, Jan 20, 2005  READ

I have no idea what my neighbours’ taste in music is, and I prefer it that way. My new neighbours are as quiet as church mice. Bless them.

I have moved several times in the past couple of years, and in all of my previous homes I have been on intimate terms with my neighbours’ CD collections.

It usually starts in the morning – the thud, thud, thud of the bass, with the top end of music muffled, so I can’t hear the words or even the melody.

Sometimes it’s at night. On bad nights it’s until well after midnight. On some weekends it’s all afternoon. Sometimes there’s a party to go with it, at other times I wonder if anyone is even at home, and speculate that maybe the stereo has decided to blow out the cobwebs of its own accord.

Sometimes the music coming from the neighbours’ place is up so loud the bass noise physically moves things around inside my house. Sometimes it’s down low, just on the periphery of hearing – but still audible.

It’s not my neighbours’ choice in music that I find a problem. I like music – all kinds. I have an eclectic taste. The problem is the simple fact that I can hear it at all.

Loud music in congested urban areas is increasingly becoming a problem. Houses are being built closer and closer together. Their walls are thinner, and the sections they’re built on are shrinking.

I live in a street in a relatively new subdivision. A few years back, I estimate there would have been about 40 to 50 houses in the street. It’s 2005, there are nearly 100.

Audio equipment is getting smaller, too. Stereos are no longer the turntable and big brown box speaker cabinets of my youth, but small, streamlined appliances. Despite their relative size, they’re actually louder – much louder – and they have more “bottom end”. That’s bass to you and I.

The stereo I owned when I was a kid had three knobs on it: volume, tone, on-off. The only knob people seem to want today is a bass one.

And not just any old ordinary bass knob, no, they want mega-bass. No hunk of audio equipment today can consider itself serious if it doesn’t have some form of ultra-super bass booster, or at the very least a subwoofer, for a sound that really cuts into your brain at a tectonic level.

A few years ago, loud music wasn’t such an issue. There wasn’t really the equipment to publicly broadcast at that level of disturbance, and people tended to mind their own business anyway.

I remember the first time someone in my street got it into their heads to play their stereo system outside. It was summer, the late 1970s; they played Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing for the whole street to enjoy.

They only did it once. Intimidating glances were passed in their direction. Their long hair and suspicious beards were noted. Mouths chattered across backyard fences, hands reached for the telephone.

In those days, the police would actually come if you complained about neighbours’ loud music. A few words from the local constable and all would be sorted.

Nowadays the police aren’t interested, they’ll refer you to the council and hang up.

In years gone by, however, people seldom bothered calling the police about noisy music. If the neighbours were making a racket, you’d go over and have a yarn with them the next day.

These days, no one does that for fear of his or her life – for the dread of the aggression it might be met with. And this is what loud music has become today – it’s aural aggression.

If you can be inside your own home, minding your own business of an evening, and suddenly your neighbour’s taste in music joins you, disturbs you, annoys you, distracts you from whatever pleasure you were engaging in, that’s surely a clear case of home invasion.

It’s a lack of respect. It’s that simple. When I was a kid, people largely respected their neighbours; they wouldn’t want to go out of their way to annoy them.

Most people today couldn’t care less.

I get steamed about this. I sometimes feel I could rent a full-scale public address system for my front lawn – something like what they use at rock concerts. I’d dig out my old copy of Aretha Franklin’s Respect and crank it up full blast.

Call me old-fashioned, but I won’t.