THE concept, says Martyn Ware, is really very basic: you play calming music, and people calm down.
But it is a simple idea which might just make a far bigger mark on the world than anything the one-time Human League and Heaven 17 member has ever done before. And, yes, that includes producing Erasure’s I Say I Say I Say album.
The Sheffield sound artist – musician really doesn’t do him justice – will this Saturday conduct a world-first experiment which could just transform night time city streets for the better forever.
And he will do it by simply pumping ambient music, slowed-down soundscapes, sea sounds and possibly the odd pan pipes piece into a Brighton road.
Sounds bizarre? It isn’t, really.
It is hoped the music, played through 12 mammoth surround-sound speakers and covering a busy 50-metre thoroughfare, will reduce rowdy behaviour and calm drunken conflicts by altering revellers’ moods as they walk through it. The £70,000 experiment is being supported by Brighton City Council, the University of Sussex and – strangely since it will mean music playing in public until 3.30am – the Noise Abatement Society.
“The truth of the matter is,” says 56-year-old Martyn, who grew up in Sheffield but now lives in London, “if this experiment works, if arrest numbers are down and if it does help create a calmer atmosphere, the results could be of real importance across the world.
“There are a lot of cities waiting to see what happens because obviously if you can reduce rowdy behaviour and make cities safer places that has a positive impact on so many other areas.”
Areas, for example, such as police time being freed-up and more people being encouraged to go into town centres to spend their money on an evening.
The soundscape, then, will be set up from 9.45pm on one of Brighton’s most drunk-deluded, sick-splattered, fight-filled areas – “think West Street but with five clubs and more stag and hen parties” says Martyn. Cameras will record people walking through so their behavioural patterns can be analysed by a team of psychologists from the university. Arrest numbers and ambulance call-outs in the vicinity will be monitored and compared with regular Saturday nights.
But will it work?
“I’m quite confident,” says Martyn who has spent the last 15 years experimenting with soundscape installations including one at the now-defunct National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield. “There’s been a few similar things done which suggest it will. They play classical music at Brixton Train Station because they found it eased commuter tensions.
“It’s not about blasting this music at people, it will be playing in the background. They might not necessarily even notice it’s on.
“And if it does work I’d love to bring it to Sheffield. I think West Street would be an ideal location.”