On 9 March 2021, Robert Buckland MP, Secretary of State for Justice in the Government of the United Kingdom, introduced a bill to Parliament which, amongst a broad range of stated intentions, aims “to make provision about the maintenance of public order” by expanding the conditions already imposed on public protest by Section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986. The very first new condition proposed by the UK Government is that the “noise generated” by public processions, public assemblies, and even one-person protests, could be sufficient grounds for police action, if a police officer decides the “noise generated” has a “relevant impact” on people near the protest. For example, a police officer may decide that the “noise generated” by a protest “may have a relevant impact” — according to the UK Government — if it might cause people nearby “to suffer serious unease.”
irrelevant noise [subsection (1)(ab)(i)] imagines the reality in which legal mechanisms continuously survey acoustic conditions for “relevance” — an intentionally vague and potentially arbitrary measure. Embedded in the performance software is an acoustic surveillance apparatus within which the performers are required to navigate thresholds at which their “noise generated” is considered “relevant” or likely to cause “unease.” Under this regime, they face the sonic challenge of aiming for sufficient irrelevance and low enough impact in order to be permitted to be heard.