The Menace of the "Constant Noise"



By Barbara Gordon, I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can, 1979

John Philip Sousa wrote an article in 1906 titled "The Menace of Mechanical Music" in which he enumerated many of the social and cultural areas that he believed would be negatively impacted by the phonograph and player piano music. The root cause of one of those complaints was the mechanical ability of these machines to incessantly repeat their songs.

Sousa noted that before the invention of phonographs and player pianos "the country dance orchestra of violin, guitar and melodeon had to rest at times, and the resultant interruption afforded the opportunity for general sociability and rest among the entire company. Now a tireless mechanism can keep everlastingly at it, and much of what made the dance a wholesome recreation is eliminated."

The experience of 'constant noise" from a phonograph playing the same record over and over was experienced in a mental ward where the following was described by Barbara Gorden in "I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can."

"But the one thing that really bothered me and some of the other patients was the constant noise of the phonograph. We felt that the heavy, pulsating rock music was provocative and incited the violent patients toward destructive behavior. Besides, I heard myself saying during one meeting, it was a pain in the ass: the incessant noise, the same record playing over and over again. We kept asking the staff to restrict the hours that the phonograph could be played, and eventually we won. There could be no music for two hours after dinner. At last there was a chance for peace on the hall, a few moments without music hammering away inside your brain." p. 194, Beaufort Books, ©1979


"It makes the neighbors sour"...hearing it "most every hour." Postcard, 1907





"plays the same pieces over and over again, late into the night, so plaintiff cannot sleep."

The Edison Phonograph Monthly, February 1905


Joe Pesci and Jill Clayburgh in I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can (1982) - Paramount Pictures