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Noise cancelling, schmoise schancelling

There once was a time when ear pads were all-permeating orange foam, and a German synth wizard met his British counterpart.

During my 35-year listening history, I've used up countless headphones: flaccid cans that let in all the noise generated by fellow travellers and allow my personal rhythms leak to the outside world, hi-fi ear buds that drill into your ear canals, flashy skull decorations with gold lettering better suited for teen gangsters, and basic domes that deliver a perfectly acceptable sound without any extra song and dance.

Harold was blissfully unaware that 20 years later a frog with a blue willy would cover his biggest hit.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been enjoying some seclusionary quality time in my own temple of pop, completely denying the existence of the outside world. It's been possible with the help of my first ever proper pair of noise canceling headphones. Their sound is somehow so exciting, catchy and inspiring that my world shook to its core when I chose the Extended Dance Mix version of Pet Shop Boys' classic So Hard as one of my first test tracks. Its bass line and orchestra hit staccato notes, and clean sequence pulsing in all its stripped-back bare perfection at 4:18 made me wish I could go back in time to 1990 to meet Harold Faltermeyer, former programmer for synthesizer wizard Giorgio Moroder, who later became famous for the theme song Axel F from the Beverly Hills Cop films .

I might even consider giving up my left bollock in a trade-in, if the owner of a time machine accepted it as payment for a ride to Munich over 30 years ago. Although I expect that hardly any driver would settle for a testicle in exchange for time travel. What would you do with a loose nut? It would be too embarrassing a stress toy to keep by the computer and I wouldn't have the nerve to tie it to the end of a pole to be used in a game of tether ball. Unless you simply don't give a flying bollock about what people might say, and just tie it up and let rip. I wonder if a spare testis floats? Would it perhaps be suitable as a door stopper? The owner of a time machine would hardly need to think about such things. They could ask for any ridiculously high price, and there'd always be someone willing to pay.

Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe recorded Behaviour , my favorite album, over ten weeks at Faltermeyer's studios in Munich. Faltermeyer had a personal beer terrace in his yard with draught taps and homemade sausage, but above all an impressive collection of antique synthesizers.

Behaviour is a mournful masterpiece about the perversity of a strict Catholic upbringing, the concept of sin, the death of a friend and the feeling brought on by the era of AIDS that everything has irrevocably changed. And it expresses a lot about other things too, at least jealousy, shyness and lost love, but also egoistic pop stars and the Russian revolution.

Being Boring by Behaviour, in my opinion, is the best pop song of all time. In all its richness and multi-layeredness, it's almost startling, an exceptionally beautiful and skillful composition, where the union of analogue synthesizers and string instruments works perfectly. It's also the last part in a touching trilogy of songs about Neil Tennant's best friend dying of AIDS. The previous parts being, of course, the b-side of the It's Alright single, Your Funny Uncle , and It Couldn't Happen Here, augmented with a grand string arrangement by Angelo Badalamenti, known for the haunting theme song from Twin Peaks.

Neither has the emotion of jealousy ever been described in the lyrics of a song in such an ingeniously compact manner, at the same time conjuring up an entire cinematic scene as in the track So hard. In the lyrics, a box of matches left lying on the bedside table reveals the cheater:

I'm always hoping you'll be faithful / but you're not I suppose / We've both given up smoking 'cause it's fatal / so whose matches are those?

As a fan of heavy bass and banging remixes, the enhanced bass reproduction of my new headphones is most welcome. I appreciate that for some, the bass may be too much, because everyone's ears are different, although their basic principle of operation as organs that help to keep headwear in place is largely the same.

Closing off the outside world more effectively than before made me remember the time when headphones didn't isolate that much. I claim to have heard the following conversation in 1988, the year of the revival of Acid House and rave culture. At that time, I was on the bus as a 15-year-old nerd on my way to a summer camp, where the following also happened:

That year I really got into Erasure, a group that occasionally even claims the number one spot from PSB on my list of favourites. You can read more about my love for Erasure here. The excellent The Innocents was the first Erasure cassette tape I ever bought. I blasted it through a two-deck boombox when we were unpacking together with my friend at the camp centre. Then it turned out that both of our mothers had packed exactly the same kind of pyjamas in our bags. We were faced with a dilemma that could only happen to a couple of nerds of our magnitude. We simply couldn't appear in the boys' room in the same nightwear, while at the same time our significantly more hormonal co-campers climbed out of the window to sneak in the night over to the girls' side to smooch and cop a feel of certain places through the blanket. We used the rock-paper-scissors method, the best-of-three system, to decide who would wear their pyjamas. I won.

It may be that my memories are distorted, but this is roughly how the call from the man who introduced himself as Lindeblad went. It remains a mystery who was on the other end of the line:

Lindeblad. – Well hi, hello.

– No, it's ok, I can talk. How can I help you?

–Yes, I do know a bit about patent law.

– Oh, you mean if an assertion clause in the contract text can effectively be a patent license Well that depends a bit…oh right?

– In that case, this shifts somewhat from patent law to legal philosophy.

– No, I can look into it if you send me an e-mail.

– Hmm...yeah. Of course, you can't oblige in advance to give up your own rights, no.

– Yeah, ha-ha. I usually eat the ones that are coated with hundreds and thousands. The boring ones tend to be left at the bottom of the bag until they get all shrivelled up.

– The way I see it, those dudes are like posing poster boys. Punk isn't about sporting a mohawk with a jerrycan of moonshine under your arm and piss in your pants. Punk is a fucking lifestyle! By the way, my ex-wife – who is still an important person to me, whatever my girlfriend may think about that – saw Johnny and the Pistols back in 1977 in London.

– Exactly, I've noticed it helps to prolong the climax. Or you hold on to the stem yourself. But don't squeeze too hard, haha.

– You just make a figure-of-eight pattern with your tongue. Or I read somewhere that going through the alphabet in your mind can also help.

– Cranberry juice. Unfortunately, I was just completely and utterly drunk at the time, haha. But so was that giant mascot squirrel. That acorn wouldn't stick to his paw however hard he tried, hahaha.

– Yes, I might have kissed, but I don't have any kind of recollection of it.

– Just lubricate deeply enough.

– Well, in all honesty, it just so happened that the small bi-curious part of me got the upper hand. I felt universal love for everyone, regardless of gender. You for one should understand when drooling after that chocolate boy.

– For fuck's sake! We have never paid ransom, and never will. The government does not negotiate.

– We don't have to deny it's existence if no one knows. Whether this stays between us is up to you.

– Do you understand?

– I've nothing more to say about this topic.

– No.

– Hey, now I really have to stop. The walls have ears.

– What?

– Yes, me too.

– Okay, I love you. Are you happy now?

– Not if you hang up first.

– No, you.

– You, silly.

– Hello?

– Huh, she's gone, what a shithead!


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