British tradition: Bad music as strategic weapon

Musicians in Britain have begun playing bad music from their balconies, to drive the populace indoors and so protect them against the COVID-19 pandemic:

(Thanks to Katharine Sanderson for bringing this to our attention.)

British musicians perfected this strategy, though for a different purpose, in the 1500s:

Vile scrapers—Music to (damage) your ears

… Cockayne studied the two centuries she believes were crucial for establishing Britain as a vibrant producer of boiler-factory-quality music. Her complacency-rattling report, “Cacophony, or Vile Scrapers on Vile Instruments: Bad Music in Early Modern English Towns“, appeared in 2002 in the journal Urban History.

Cockayne dates the swelling of British bad vibrations to the 1572 vagabond laws, which “limited the opportunities for independent musicians to ply their trade”. Barred from joining the officially sanctioned acting companies, many performers literally took to the streets. Soon, England’s cities were chock-a-block with singers, street criers and instrumentalists of various inability.

This had consequences. Cockayne casts them in somewhat reserved language: “The reactions of people living in towns and cities between the mid-16th and mid-18th centuries who were unwillingly subjected to music that was cacophonous, or which caused them consternation or irritation, will be considered.” …