Thursday, August 21, 2008

A whirlpool effect in the crowd

UK police has banned an appearance by Babyshambles, fearing that their performance would incite violence. From NME: "Chief Superintendent Julian Kirby, divisional commander of Wiltshire Police, said: "We carried out an analysis of what Pete Doherty and his band does. What he does as part of his routine is to gee up the crowd. They speed up and then slow down the music and create a whirlpool effect in the crowd. They [the crowd] all get geed up and then they start fighting.""

It's interesting that where the moral panic of British authorities was in 1994 aimed at repetitive beats, in 2008 it is aimed at beats that are in a sense "not repetitive enough": the rhythm of Babyshambles is faulted because it accelerates and slows down again.

On a more serious note, I feel that the actions of Wiltshire police are a violation of Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of expression. In a judgement from 1988 the European Court observed, that "Those who create, perform, distribute or exhibit works of art contribute to the exchange of ideas and opinions which is essential for a democratic society. Hence the obligation on the State not to encroach unduly on their freedom of expression". Only under strict circumstances, the treaty allows the exercise of this freedom to be subjected to "...such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society...". Article 10 continues to specify the ground for interfering with the freedom of expression, one of which is the prevention of disorder or crime. But it is hardly necessary in a democratic society to ban Babyshambles only because of some accelerando and ritardando - if it were, the Wiltshire police would do well to also forbid the perfomance of many classical symphonies, especially from the Romantic era. Furthermore, the idea that forbidding music which speeds up and slows down is necessary for the prevention of disorder or crime, is sheer nonsense. Without denying that accelerando and ritardando can have a powerful aesthetic and psychological effect (more on this later), it is simply not correct that these musical techniques are a determining factor in causing aggression. On the contrary, the connection between musical causes and psychological effects offers a very wide margin of freedom. As far as I am aware, there is not a shred of neurophysiological evidence that would support the Chief Superintendent's hypothesis.

In fact, the Chief Superintendent's actions are so obviously stupid that they even fail to impart the glory and prestige of transgressivity to Babyshamble's music (which, by the way, I loathe). Not even the merest shred of that perverse pleasure!

Post scriptum

Picture cribbed from the History Is Made At Night blog, which provides more details of this case.


mrG said...

it is maybe not as far fetched as you might thing, nor is it without neuroscience foundation or precident; generally the research seeks to quell violence, but its a two-way street; the military has been using music to parade young men to violence for thousands of years, and if these players are skilled in the Sound Art, there is no reason to believe they could not stir a crowd to madness just as Pythagoras was often employed by law officials to settle them.

but y'know, I rather doubt it. Seems far more plausible, far more in character and with precedents since Thatcher years (and before, really) the bobbies just wanted something else and trumped up this charge as a smokescreen.

Anonymous said...

I was sayin much the same thing about this to a mate over the weekend

I was actually supposed to be working there and have lost a weekends wages as a result

This was the first time section 160 of the new licensing act was used to prevent a performance. This section was put in place to prevent people inciting racial hatred and violence etc under the guise

This is a very tricky area to be wading in as again you are bumping into the freedom of expression arguement however if Mr Doherty was standing on the lip of the stage verbally inciting a riot I would say ban his ass and throw away the key

He and his band have clearly fallen foul of a few people who don't really like him (For the record I don't either but you sometimes need to shine a light on the idiots in the world so the rest of the population know where the line is) but that doesn't give them the right to ban artistic expression

Given the blatent breach of human rights and therefore unjust court ruling I'm actually considering sueing the local police and the court for loss of earnings