Professor Brian Cox is poised dramatically atop a snow-capped mountain, the camera spinning dizzyingly around him as the orchestral background music builds to a crescendo. Suddenly, we’re flung out across a vast canyon, and as the music swoops and soars, Cox begins to speak…
But what’s he’s saying? It’s hard to make it out against that wall of majestic strings. And for some people it’s all getting a bit much…
Following last night’s episode of Wonders of the Universe, the BBC received over one hundred complaints that the programme’s accompanying music drowned out the words of its presenter Professor Brian Cox.
And, despite all the noise, the BBC has heard its viewers and agreed to turn the volume down.
“Clearly none of us set out to make programmes where we can’t hear the presenter,” said the show’s executive producer Jonathan Renouf, “so if we have got that wrong then we need to do something about it. There’s been enough volume of complaints about this that I think we clearly have made an error of judgment.
“So we are remixing the sound for all the films to pull down the music and effects levels during the segments where Brian is talking, and we are very hopeful that will correct any problems that the audience have had.”
It’s an initial victory for a wider campaign. Leading the charge against TV’s “muzak morons” is Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music (the musical equivalent of the Poet Laureate).
“We are being driven from even serious television programmes by this incessant need for background music,” said Davies. “I remember having to turn off an otherwise fascinating David Attenborough wildlife programme because some muzak moron had decided it was a good idea to play background music to the animals’ antics. It just made the whole thing ridiculous.”
But for many people, the music is more than just an annoyance. A spokesperson at The Royal National Institute for the Deaf said “A lot of people have hearing loss in just one ear and for them it’s difficult to differentiate between different sounds. Loud background music affects their ability to hear.”
There have been suggestions that viewers should be able to switch music on television programmes on and off, like subtitles, or decrease the volume to suit their requirements. And with alternative commentaries already available on selected sporting events via the BBC red button, it’s clear the technology is there.
But Cox himself thinks the BBC are making a mistake in turning down the music on Wonders of the Universe. Speaking on Radio 4’s Start the Week programme this morning, the physicist said “We can sometimes be too responsive to the minority of people that complain… [Wonders of the Universe] should be a cinematic experience – it’s a piece of film on television, not a lecture.”
Then again, you might have thought he’d be keen on a change of soundtrack for his show. His former pop group D:ream have just released their first album in 15 years, and keyboard player Cox guests on the new single Gods in the Making.
Could Wonders of the Universe be a fitting video for the song? It would certainly beat the current attempt, which seems to have been made on a ZX Spectrum. Watch it below. And listen out for some great keyboard work…