It was Fantasia in C Minor with mobile phone, beeping watches and coughing and sneezing accompaniment."
August 22, 2001 12:44 PM   Subscribe

It was Fantasia in C Minor with mobile phone, beeping watches and coughing and sneezing accompaniment." Andras Schiff (a wonderful, wonderful pianist, who I've been lucky to hear in concert) had enough of the background noise and left the stage at the Edinburgh festival until people turned off their phones and cleared their throats. Over-reaction, or justified against rudeness? And have you ever experienced something similar at a play/concert/gig?
posted by holgate (52 comments total)
Maybe a little extreme, but I sympathize. Besides the elite musician who has the unlikely opportunity to play for an (usually) attentive audience, musicians must perform at parties and other events where he must deal with an audience distracted by cocktails and rowdy conversation rather than this sort of noise. Maybe he was touchy after years of this frustration? However, a polite, 'I remind you to turn off your cell-phones' could have also done the trick.
posted by student4ever at 12:53 PM on August 22, 2001

Doesn't seem like an over-reaction to me. I'm sure everyone here can recall a movie or play or concert or opera ruined by a few dorks that not only left their phones on, but they used them.

In Sydney, I caught the symphony doing Strauss, and the audience was great, totally silent and not a single cell phone went off. Though, after the first piece was over, everyone that was holding back a cough or throat clearing let them fly. It was almost comical to hear a chorus of coughing after the applause.
posted by mathowie at 12:55 PM on August 22, 2001

I'd have applauded him madly. I think that adding background noise to a concert is similar to setting up folding chairs at an art museum and mucking up the view. I've been to movies where people have chatted, in normal conversational tones, on cell phones, which is so maddeningly rude it boggles my mind. One of my friends went to a Morrissey concert ages ago, where he stomped off the stage in a snit because his adoring fans wouldn't stop tossing flowers up to him.

By far the weirdest experience I've ever had along these lines was a month or so ago, when a young woman snarked at my friend and I for laughing during the "Like A Virgin" sequence in "Moulin Rouge." Apparently she was a Madonna purist? We weren't coughing up bits of projective popcorn or weeping into her mullet or anything, we were just... laughing. I'm still flabbergasted over that one.
posted by kittyb at 12:57 PM on August 22, 2001

Here (in Barcelona), at least in some concert halls, they use those thingammies that block the phones from receiving calls. That OK for everyone? It's not just for the obnoxious, it's worse to be against it and then forget to turn off your phone (easy thing to do) when you go somewhere like this and getting the ultimate in nasty sneers. It hurts so much more when you agree with them.
posted by Zootoon at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2001

I was at a performance by the incomparable Evelyn Glennie with the Pittsburgh Symphony earlier this year. Ms. Glennie was performing a long (30+ minutes, I think), rapturous percussion piece which began and ended with her playing very quietly on a woodblock. Just as she struck the block with her final pianissimo note, the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's 9th rang out, loud and clear from a cell phone in the orchestra section (we heard it clearly in the balcony). Sort-of deflated the experience, though it didn't quite ruin it.

I support the guy wholeheartedly; I can forgive a cough now and then, but cell phones are a MAJOR no-no.

(Please, nobody joke that Evelelyn Glennie [who's deaf] didn't mind because she couldn't hear it...)
posted by arco at 1:05 PM on August 22, 2001

That reminds me of the story I read a couple years back about Lawrence Fishburne going off on someone with a cellphone during a performance. The audience then applauded his actions (as I would have).

The funniest cell phone moment for me was actually at SXSW this year during a panel with DJ Spooky and the Freenet fellow (name escapes me right now). A woman had a cellphone that rang, and she just started talking and carrying on as if everything was normal, during the middle of the panel. Eventually, a fellow threw a wadded up piece of paper at her and it hit her in the head. She stopped talking soon after that.
posted by almostcool at 1:11 PM on August 22, 2001

A few years ago I was at a Chantal Creva... er.. Crevi... Crevisomething concert (hopefully you know who I'm talking about). Throughout the entire thing half the people were yelling for her to sing Jetplane (the song she redid for Armageddon). It really bugged me I guess that's the downfall of the one hit wonder. Nobody ever wants to hear anything else.
posted by ODiV at 1:11 PM on August 22, 2001

People who let their cell phones ring in movies and or concerts and so on should be drawn and quartered in the public square. Although I do have a cell phone, people's arrogant attitude that they are so important that they must be reachable at all times is really outrageous. That being said, plenty of folk singers and bands and stuff play in clubs where there is all sorts of noise. But, this guy is not the first. Glenn Gould, genius pianist also, quit playing live at the height of his career because he couldn't stand the audience noise and the inconsistancies between various performance spaces and instruments (he brought his own piano after a while). Also, the Beatles (remember them?) quit playing live because the audience screaming was so loud that they couldn't even hear themselves on stage, so it became a "what's the point?" type of situation.
posted by bob bisquick at 1:14 PM on August 22, 2001

A world-class performer of Andras Schiff's stature must be able to concentrate on his work to achieve his superior musical results consistently. While the occasional disturbance may be passed off, a succession of them will break the concentration of even the most hardened professional.

Taking a break from the stage probably resulted in a much better performance than if he had tried to struggel through.
posted by mischief at 1:19 PM on August 22, 2001

Not a cell phone story, but a "noise in the audience story": several years ago my wife and I went to see James Galway in concert in Portland, ME in the middle of winter (which means half the audience was sick with colds or flu, sneezing, coughing, sniffling, etc.). Galway stopped in the middle of a piece to remind people that they needed to stop the noise. He also needed to remind them that it is customary to withhold applause until an entire piece is finished rather than clap between movements.
posted by briank at 1:21 PM on August 22, 2001

Perhaps he should have broke out into the John Cage stormer of a piece '4 minutes and 33 seconds'
posted by Kino at 1:25 PM on August 22, 2001

I've been to two funeral services during which cel phones went off. At the third that my family attended that year, the funeral director (at my family's request) instructed everyone to turn their phones off before the services began. We were later told that that was a tacky thing for us to do, but I don't know that we had much of a choice - the attendees were, for the most part, the same folks who'd been to the other funerals.
posted by isomorphisms at 1:25 PM on August 22, 2001

Come /on/, people. We have the technology: vibe mode. Use it. You'll like it.
posted by eamondaly at 1:26 PM on August 22, 2001

I was in a play last year in a small theatre (seats about 150) and in the middle of a scene, someone's cell phone started ringing about 6 feet away from me in the front row. Obviously the person was too embarrassed to "let on" whose cell phone it was, so instead of pulling it out and turning it off, they let in ring...and ring...and ring. The damn thing wouldn't go to voicemail and it must have rung about 8 times before the caller gave up. I wish I had heard Laurence Fishburne's story before that, it might have inspired me (although I certainly don't have his stature). It was EXTREMELY distracting to me as a performer. There was no excuse for this person as there was an announcement before the show reminding everyone to turn off cell phones and beepers.

I also did a show where on two different nights people brought BABIES who cried during the performance and the parent would not take them out. Sometimes I want to stop a show and say "This is not a movie! We are live actors and we can HEAR you!" It's distracting to everyone. I own a cell phone but I turn it off.

One of the worst, though, was when I was seeing a production of Antigone and in the middle of it, a cell phone rang, the owner picked up, stood up and said "Hello? ...Yeah, I'm watching a show right now" as they walked out of the theatre in front of hundreds of patrons. Everyone heard, including the actors.

Has anyone heard the story about Kevin Spacey? I heard he was doing a show and someone's cell phone rang so he took his out of his pocket (his character had one) and said "Nope, not mine!" Correct me on the details if I'm wrong, please.
posted by witchstone at 1:35 PM on August 22, 2001

in the outtakes of Rush Hour 2, at the end of the movie, Chris Tucker's cell phone went off...while they were filming. (and the guy on the other end wanted to talk to Jackie C.)
posted by epersonae at 1:40 PM on August 22, 2001

'Here (in Barcelona), at least in some concert halls, they use those thingammies that block the phones from receiving calls.'

Cell phone jammers are illegal in most countries Zootoon. Sure to be a huge market for them as governments gradually relax legislation though.
posted by Kino at 1:41 PM on August 22, 2001

kittyb: You're forgiven for laughing during the "Like a Virgin" scene from "Moulin Rouge." I've seen the movie three times now, and that scene is laugh-out-loud funny. It just is. Now, I got a little pissed when the audience laughed during the "Roxanne" scene, but you know what? All three times I've seen it, the audience fell out at that part, too. So, it's forgivable.

And I've seen people take calls during church. People are idiots.
posted by ColdChef at 1:44 PM on August 22, 2001

At the theatre with which I was formerly affiliated, there is a notice printed in the programme and announced prior to curtain. It states that there is a performance-time ban on cellular phones, pagers, candy wrappers and flash photography, and those in violation would be escorted from the auditorium by the usher staff.

It also states that the theatre "strongly urges patrons whose children become noisy or restless and those stricken with sudden bouts of coughing or sneezing" adjourn to the rear lobby where the play could still be heard and seen fairly well (though the patrons' noises could not) and free water and lemonade, quiet toys (which were to be returned), tissues and lozenges were available for the asking. It worked quite nicely.

Witchstone: The Kevin Spacey tale is from his run on Broadway in The Iceman Cometh. His character didn't have a cellphone, he actually turned out his empty pockets and turned to the rest of the cast and said "It's not mine, how about you fellas?" The crowd lost it. A similar thing happened during a filming of "Will & Grace" last season, a cell phone rang playing Britney Spear's "Oops I Did It Again" and Sean Hayes and Debra Messing broke the scene and started singing along and doing the dance moves from the video. (Which they had done in an episode earlier in the season.) Slightly different, but still a nice "We're going to stop and shame you subtly" manuever.

However, the best performer's response, in my book, still goes to Rosie O'Donnell in a bit that made into the final edit of her last HBO special. She took the ringing cellphone, answered it, and proceeded to talk to the person on the other end in her Betty Rubble persona, making out that she was some woman who was out on a date with the guy who owned the phone. Very clever.
posted by Dreama at 1:50 PM on August 22, 2001

I'd like to see a performer use a scanner in his show, the kind that picks up cellphone calls (probably need a descambler or something, I don't know, just, bare with me...) and should someone decide to talk on the phone, it can just be played outloud for everone to hear.

Wishful thinking of course, and I know Scanner does (use cell phone conversations) on his albums, but I don't know about his live shows.
posted by fuq at 1:51 PM on August 22, 2001

kittyb: I don't get that either! That scene is hilarious (and is supposed to be)! Although, I'm with you too, ColdChef, I don't get the people laughing during Roxanne. I thought it was extremely powerful & moving, but I certainly wouldn't yell at someone for laughing at it.
posted by witchstone at 2:02 PM on August 22, 2001

Since nobody's mentioned George W. Bush here yet, I'll do it. He's got a cell phone phobia as well.
posted by dagny at 2:04 PM on August 22, 2001

I've seen Scanner, and he does similar things in his live shows, though it was unclear when I saw him (years ago) if he was picking up cellular traffic or just regular radio waves (from a police scanner or something). I remember thinking that it was the latter.
posted by mikel at 2:10 PM on August 22, 2001

I just came across an amusing snippet whilst searching for some clips of Dom Jollys huge-mobile-phone street pranks.. 'At the beginning of ITLT a black suit carrying an enormous mobile phone walks on stage and a la Trigger Happy shouts “Hello no I’m at an Alice Cooper concert – its crap, ciao” and he exits stage left. Mucho laughter follows and off we go again..'. Excellent.
posted by Kino at 2:20 PM on August 22, 2001

Yes, ColdChef, people are idiots. Good thing all of us MeFi-ers don't belong to the group called "people".
posted by msacheson at 2:21 PM on August 22, 2001

What really gets me at crowded movie theatres is all the lip-smacking, slobbering, plastic bag-rustling, slurping and sucking gourmands that can't go 90 minutes without cramming their faces with alternating heavy doses of sugar and salt based snacks. That and the other audience members that think it's quite acceptable to sneeze, cough and slurp phlegm at a public performance when they really should be at home in bed nursing what is obviously an advanced case of the flu/bronchitis/a cold etc... The cell phone thing is a given. Why risk distraction when you've paid the price of admission to watch something that's assumedly of some interest to you? It makes no sense.

On the other side of things... I once saw a 'Nightmare On Elm Street' movie at a theatre in an all-black neighborhood in Chicago. The audience was more entertaining than the film as they jeered the victims and cheered Freddy on. "Don't you open that door! Freddy gonna get you!"
posted by mb01 at 2:25 PM on August 22, 2001

Here's one that definitely works..(real player required). Not to be missed. ^__^
posted by Kino at 2:27 PM on August 22, 2001

Surprisingly few mea culpas here...

Wasn't a cell phone, but my damnable Palm went off at the symphony last year; I had remembered to turn my cell phone off, but forgot about the Palm, and Palm alarms you can't turn off, nor do they have vibrato mode. It couldn't have alarmed during the intermission, nooooooo, it went off *perfectly* in between the movement during some Bartok. I don't think they could hear it onstage (it was inside my jacket pocket and at least a little muffled, and I was in row 15 or so) but the people in my row looked at me like I was a complete asshole, which of course I was. I scampered to the can and took the batteries out. My wife was mortified.

I'm far more careful about that sort of thing these days.
posted by UncleFes at 2:38 PM on August 22, 2001

UncleFes the same thing happened to me in an oh-so-quiet Yoga class. (There are only about five notices between the front door and the classroom to turn your cell phones/electronics off.) My Palm was across the room, in my bag. I just waited to leave class and pick up my bag until after most people had left. Of course it was the alarm telling me *about* my Yoga class.
Off topic, I notice a LOT of bodily sounds in the yoga class, maybe because of all that upside-down ab-crunching. I usually don't laugh...
posted by pomegranate at 2:47 PM on August 22, 2001

I teach adults. I can't tell you how many times I've been in the middle of a lecture and had students not only have their phones ring, but suddenly become involved in full-fledged conversations, in a classroom. I can empathize with Schiff.

I find the best solution is to stand next to the student and continue lecturing louder than they are speaking. That usually is enough of a hint for them to get the hell out.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:51 PM on August 22, 2001

eyeballkid-It's not just adults. I teach freshmen in college and I had a student answer her phone in the middle of class and look at me say, "I have to take this" walk out of the room and not come back until the end of class. (I teach small classes that focus on discussion) This oh so important call did not involve any kind of emergency so I told her that I was marking her down as absent from class. I put on the syllabus that cell phones and beepers should be shut off, but apparently my students gave up on reading after they filled out their college apps. Now I've gotten to the point that when a student's phone rings I say "Someone better be dead or dying if you take that call." That seems to be pretty effective.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:09 PM on August 22, 2001 [1 favorite]

Re: Palms, the new Palm m500 series has vibe mode, which is why I bought it. And for those of you with older Palms, Preferences->General->Alarm Sound->Off. You have no excuse.

Vibe, vibe, vibe. I love vibe.
posted by eamondaly at 3:22 PM on August 22, 2001

On the other side of things... I once saw a 'Nightmare On Elm Street' movie at a theatre in an all-black neighborhood in Chicago. The audience was more entertaining than the film as they jeered the victims and cheered Freddy on. "Don't you open that door! Freddy gonna get you!"

That's an Eddie Murphy routine, isn't it?

I don't get the people laughing during Roxanne. I thought it was extremely powerful

Eddie Murphy again. Didn't you see 48 hours?
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:03 PM on August 22, 2001

48 Hours the movie, mind you.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:08 PM on August 22, 2001

Mo, read me a story.
posted by msacheson at 4:21 PM on August 22, 2001

in high school orchestra/band, when we'd have concerts, i used to bring a camera to take pictures of people taking pictures.
posted by elle at 4:39 PM on August 22, 2001 [1 favorite]

I completely sympathize with the artists and the comments herein, but totally disagree with banning cellphones or blocking them. I have 4 kids, and emergencies are commonplace. I need to be reachable when I'm away, whether it's for the kids themselves, the babysitter, the teacher, or the EMT. I forgot to put it on "vib" mode one time at a SFO performance - thank God it rang during intermission. That was enough for me - I've never forgotten since, and that was 3 years ago. I would go along with summarily ejecting anyone whose electronic equipment went off, though. That could wind up being entertainment itself!
posted by JParker at 4:51 PM on August 22, 2001

To help Roberta celebrate my arrival, our chivalrous and irreproachably well-mannered landlord had bestowed upon her two hard-to-come-by tickets to the Bolshoi.

We went the following evening. Gisele was on the program, the same ballet I'd seen performed five years ago during my first visit to Moscow. At that time the theater had been shabby, with grimy scaffolding from ongoing renovations concealing its fissured neo-Romanesque façade. The work had since been completed, the cast-iron chariot and four-horse cortege over the portico was meticulously restored, and the whole majestic front was splashed with cozy, pink light.

The audience had also undergone a remarkable transformation. Gone were the graying American retirees in Bermuda shorts and sensible shoes, the camera-clutching tour groups from England, and the prim Muscovite mothers, who had no doubt scrimped so that their daughters could see Russian culture in its highest form. In their stead sat row upon row of American and British bankers, lawyers, and accountants in somber, fashionable suits. Those Russian daughters, I could not fail to notice, had grown up in all the right places. They snuggled with the emissaries of foreign finance, and shot one another catty, competitive glances.

The most beautiful women sat with the beefy Russian businessmen. These pencil-thin molls favored form-fitting body suits patterned after various feline predators. They toted chic Fendi bags from which they plucked tiny cell-phones with long, painted nails.

Mobile phones chirped, rang, and buzzed incessantly throughout the performance, while hushed conversations in several languages echoed from the four corners of the gallery. I understood now why Mikhail Mikhailovich had told Roberta he never went to the ballet anymore. Yet I did not find the vulgarity repulsive. It was tantalizing, theatrical. Even the sinewy ballerinas fluttering about the stage were either too wrapped up in their routines to complain about the ruckus or had long ago realized that the real show at the Bolshoi was now the audience.

--from Casino Moscow: A Tale of Greed and Adventure On Capitalism's Wildest Frontier
posted by NortonDC at 5:10 PM on August 22, 2001

...and jamming is illegal in America, but shielding is not. Theaters could be retrofit to block the passage of signals without using illegal transmitters. I've not heard of any theater doing so.
posted by NortonDC at 5:13 PM on August 22, 2001

People who let their cell phones ring in movies and or concerts and so on should be drawn and quartered in the public square.

I think that's a little extreme. But I do think they deserve a sharp punch to the stomach.
posted by Dirjy at 5:55 PM on August 22, 2001

I was in attendance at a Jello Biafra "concert" not too long ago. Because the setting was fairly intimate, when a cell phone when off he STOPPED the show and told everyone to turn around and look at the offending person. Then, on the count of "1,2,3..." everyone shouted "HI!!!!!!!!" at the top of their lungs. It was great.
posted by Fat Elvis at 6:53 PM on August 22, 2001

JParker, what did you do before the invention of the cell phone? Are emergencies so much more urgent these days?

Basically, if you believe you can't go anywhere without your cell phone because of possible emergencies then I advise not going anywhere. Obviously, you don't fly of course.
posted by Option1 at 7:19 PM on August 22, 2001

Yeh Holgate, I was at a gig recently. Right after the first piece, someone from the audience screamed, "What the #$&k was that?!" And the guitarist jumped to the mic and yelled "You stupid &@$% !" And then someone else spat "Get on with it you lazy #$&*s !" The band laughed and the lead singer started singing the next piece, &*#$@ing ?&*$ Trash *$%# Yodel.
I'm not sure if anyone was carrying cellphones.
posted by spandex at 7:25 PM on August 22, 2001

Judging by the title, I thought this post was going to be about something similar to this,
posted by m@ at 7:57 PM on August 22, 2001

Someone once shushed me for talking during a silent film. I really didn't understand their point.
posted by D at 8:53 PM on August 22, 2001

This anti-cell thing is also terribly cultural - I go see Indian movies in Jackson Heights in Queens, which sometimes total 5 plus hours (there's an intermission to break it up), and people DO NOT turn off their cell phones, people answer the calls, hell, people bring whistles to blow.

One great feature I'd like to see from cell phone manufacturers is the ability for a concert hall or movie theater or restaurant to use a jammer that forces all phones to go on vibrate only.
posted by lightnoise at 8:53 PM on August 22, 2001 [1 favorite]

Of course, it always manages to come full circle.
What if you were attending Dialtones and some jerk started playing the piano? ;-)
posted by Fofer at 8:57 PM on August 22, 2001

This one time, when I was at a piano recital, a woman a couple seats down from me got the giggles and couldn't stop. It seemed her companion had placed a Tweetybird Pez dispenser on her lap, and she couldn't stop thinking/laughing about it. It completely threw the pianist off her concentration and she seemed VERY upset afterwards.

Wait a minute... ;)

I think I watch too much t.v.
posted by Grum at 9:27 PM on August 22, 2001

One great feature I'd like to see from cell phone manufacturers is the ability for a concert hall or movie theater or restaurant to use a jammer that forces all phones to go on vibrate only.

Good idea Lightnoise. Couldn't happen tho - wouldn't appeal to king consumer.
posted by Kino at 10:24 PM on August 22, 2001

Not perfectly on topic, but I have to do something spectacular to make it worth posting this late in the thread.

You've all been to a Rocky Horror Picture Show, haven't you? It's usually a small, devoted audience (spiced with the usual percentage of Virgins, gleefully pointed out by the others). Everyone knows the major talkback points, and there's always a few who came from some other city and have something new. The raucous points are well marked (In the back rooooowwww,.... -- "FUCK the back row!" -- "FUCK the front row!", or the toilet paper fights) and compensate for the moments of close attention. It's highly regulated social transgression, in other words. For you kids, who never got the chance, you've missed something.

An aside: my college put on a live production of the original Rocky Horror Show. My favorite part of that was the music, which was done in a rockabilly style by a small quartet, cello and all. I wish I had a tape of that performance....

Flash forward to visiting my cousin at UConn. It's Halloween, and there's a midnight showing of RHPS. I think this would be a fun thing to do, especially since my cousin and her best friend -- staunch born agains -- are likely to be virgins, and I want to tweak them. Instead, it turns out they've been more than once, but hated it! I determine to turn them around, wondering how they could have experienced this and not had some kind of fun. Well, we hike over and wait in line for an hour. The burgeoning crowd alone should have tipped me off to what was what. We squeeze into a massive practice gym lined with chairs; faculty monitors enforce a strict headcount, and seize items from people that aren't on the approved list. Still, I remained hopeful: there was a sharply-dressed set of players setting up on a small stage before the screen. Well, inside of five minutes of the movie I knew it wasn't gonna be great. The kids were yelling at the screen, but rarely in unison, and people were calling out things that had nothing to do with the movie. Everyone was on their feet, so you couldn't see the live players, and you certainly couldn't hear much of the movie. The crescendo rose until the time came for the toilet paper rolls to be tossed back and forth. They came from all directions, and then they didn't stop. We spent the rest of the time dodging sailing TP rolls and picking now-soggy TP, rolled in spilled soda, off our clothes. By the end of the movie it was complete chaos just short of a food fight, and one of the worst experiences of my life.

I just don't think anyone there got it. All they saw was a way to get into a room and stage a controlled riot. Anything for sake of the medium, or the other audience members, or the loyal fans? Nah, catch the soggy TP!
posted by dhartung at 3:53 AM on August 23, 2001

I'm in the Philippines, and Filipinos are waaaay cellphone-crazy. Everyone has one, and yes, there's always someone who forgets to turn it off at concerts, despite admonishments over the PA system to turn off all phones, beepers, and radios -- before the performance, during intermission, and after intermission. Worse, many have the temerity to put their Nokia phones in LOUD mode, so you get a continuing beeping noise at the Level 5 volume setting.

I'm too lazy to type the rest of my cellphone-and-baby experience. Just read my [SHAMELESS SELF-LINK]blog entry[/SHAMELESS].
posted by brownpau at 9:35 AM on August 23, 2001

You think going to movies is bad in the states, try seeing one in Taiwan. The entire Chinese opera tradition is completely different than the European opera tradition, so it's even more circuslike, if you can imagine.
posted by Poagao at 8:45 PM on August 23, 2001

The history of "civilization" is the history of human beings obtaining more and more ways to show how polite or loutish they are, and to show their good or bad taste. There are simply more ways, easier ways to be a lout in 2001 than 1900 or 1980. Well, at least it's also easier to know who to avoid....
posted by ParisParamus at 8:53 PM on August 23, 2001

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