It’s an ordinary afternoon at Copenhagen Central Station. At 2:32pm, a man who appears to be a run-of-the-mill street performer sets up a drum in the center of a large hall. A cellist joins him. A woman approaches with her flute. The melody is sort of recognizable… It sounds sort of like Ravel’s Bolero. Pretty cool jam session, right?
Then the clarinet and bassoons and all the rest of the instruments start playing. People pull out their cell phones and record video. Fathers and children take a seat on the tile floor to listen. Mothers with strollers slow down to watch. Within minutes, its like an entire symphony orchestra has assembled itself in the center of the station. Actually, it’s exactly like that: it’s the Copenhagen Philharmonic! And they are playing Ravel’s Bolero!
Once the piece is done, the musicians disperse, and its business as usual at the station. It’s as if it never happened.
Why is this musical flashmob so interesting? There’s something unique and engaging about this. This is a very different experience than watching an orchestra perform in a music hall. Perhaps it’s because of the jarring disconnect between the familiar experience of hearing classical music and the unexpected context within which that experience occurs.
You don’t have to go to Copenhagen and wait for an orchestral flashmob to surround you in order to experience this sort of disconnect. You can get it at the liquor store, or indeed, at most college campuses.
Four Loko was a fruit-flavored, caffeinated, alcoholic drink that was invented by three Ohio State University students in 2005. Following a series of accidents, injuries, and deaths on college campuses and elsewhere, most of the discussion about the harmful effects of the drink centered on the combination of caffeine and alcohol. “Some have claimed,” writes McMaster University psychologist Shepard Siegel in the latest issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, “that the stimulant [the caffeine -JGG] masked the intoxicating effects of alcohol, thus encouraging excess alcohol consumption.”
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