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Embarrassing iPhone concert incident gets explanation

updated 11:00 pm EST, Fri January 13, 2012

User unaware that alarm going off was his

The news story that a persistent iPhone ring (the familiar marimba tones used by no other handset maker) had caused conductor Alan Gilbert to actually stop a performance by the New York Philharmonic, the issue of cell phone annoyances at public performances has risen to the national spotlight. The guilty party, reached by The New York Times, offered effusive apologies and provided an explanation of the incident, which has left him distraught.

The man, who was unidentified in the article and referred to as Patron X, said that he had turned his new iPhone -- he had just switched from a Blackberry -- to silent mode as he entered the concert, but was unaware that alarms set on the iPhone will sound even if the ringer is set to mute. The man, said to be in his 60s and a 20-year subscriber to the orchestra, was not aware that he was the culprit at first until he and others around him checked their own iPhones to try and stop the source of the ongoing ringing, which had disturbed the conductor, silenced the orchestra and brought catcalls from other members of the audience.

He said he found the incident "devastating" and "hadn't slept in two days." He has himself, he said, often been irked by coughs or badly-timed applause or indeed cell phones ringing during concert performances, of which he is a regular attendee. He was eventually identified by the orchestra due to his front-row seat, and asked to ensure that it wouldn't happen again. The man was eventually connected to conductor Gilbert for a personal apology, which the man says Gibert accepted.

Patron X used the newspaper interview as an opportunity to apologize further to the audience. "It was just awful to have any role in something like that, that is so disturbing and disrespectful not only to the conductor but to all the musicians and not least to the audience, which was so into this concert," he said. "I hope the people at that performance and members of the orchestra can certainly forgive me for this whole event."

The incident sparked numerous news stories and vitriolic reactions from classical music, film and performance lovers around the world. One of the witter reactions was from composer Daniel Dorff, who tweeted "just changed my ringtone to play #Mahler 9 just in case," a reference to the music that was being played at the concert. Ironically, a pre-recorded message before the concert reminding patrons to turn off their cellphones is voiced by actor Alec Baldwin, who has recently had some trouble with inappropriate mobile-device usage of his own.

Both Gilbert and Patron X agreed that the incident did have one bright side, a reminder of how important (and fragile) the bond between the audience and performers at a live event can be. For his part, the culprit has likely learned a lesson that shutting down an iPhone completely -- rather than just putting it in silent mode -- will prevent any alarms from sounding. Lincoln Center, which employs the ushers that would normally have intervened, is investigating why they did not act during this incident, which lasted several minutes.

While most patrons and performers find the incidents of cell phone ringing disturbing (and increasingly frequent in occurrence), they can generally ignore it. In this particular incident, the noise was coming from the front row and continued to interrupt the softer passages of music for several minutes, causing the conductor to eventually stop the performance. Once finally silenced, the performance resumed to cheers.

by MacNN Staff



  1. lutherfan

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I can well imagine...

    how everyone felt, and I couldn't help but be quite amazed with the story... but I really DO feel for the poor fellow... to be truthful I didn't even know that an alarm would go off even if the silencer was on. I suppose that makes sense, but I didn't actually realize or think about that. Thank goodness I don't regularly use alarms!!!! So I am actually quite thankful for him because now I will be extra careful! :) I hope he gets some sleep soon!

    Comment buried. Show
  1. que_ball

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Major ios weakness is sounds

    The story actually highlights one of the MAJOR weaknesses of the IOS software. I can totally understand the issue if the user was a previous Blackberry user. The Blackberry for all it's faults has a lot of good things going for it when it comes to the area of Notifications and sound profiles.

    I guess the first plus, is there actually are sound profiles on the Blackberry. The iphone needs to have some way of bundling all your notification preferences into a single group of settings you can apply to fit the situation.

    The blackberry has at least one bit of state awareness. You can get it to switch sound profiles into bedside mode if it is connected to a charger between the evening hours you specify to go into a silent or nearly silent mode at night.

    Apple should get ahead of the curve and make some kind of grouping of notification preferences possible but take it further with something like advanced location awareness. If the phone knows you are home then a certain sound profile can kick in. If it's charging at night then another silent profile kicks in. If you are driving then another profile is active. If you are at work yet another profile. If it's the weekend, etc etc. Throw in some Apple polish and UI intuitiveness to push down the complexity to a manageable level and beat the market to a better next gen of location aware sound profiles.

    As it stands the need to manually change your sound and notification settings in IOS puts it as the WORST major smartphone OS for this particular problem on the market. Android has some third party software and some vendor customized versions of android also add advanced location and state aware notification settings which are pretty powerful but lack the needed polish.

  1. TomMcIn

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Major Rim Weakness

    And RIM should get ahead of the curve, fire their jock CEOs, and start producing equipment that will at least not produce losses.

  1. macmediausa

    Joined: Dec 1969


    mute means MUTE

    That sure explains the problem I have been having but couldn't explain....
    When I hit the mute button, I want the phone silenced. That's the reason for it. I could be in an important meeting and just can't be disturbed.

    I know that I can turn off the phone but that then defeats the purpose of a mute button then. Turning off the phone takes a lot of time.

    Apple should just put a software switch within GENERAL so that the user can just pick the vibrate switch as a full mute or muting just rings....

  1. benjitek

    Joined: Dec 1969


    iOS Handles Sounds Well

    Lot's of haters jumping on this blog post for whatever reasons. Personally, I like the way sounds work in relation to the mute button on my iPhone. I use it as an alarm clock -- when I go to sleep, I want all sounds muted except the Clock app's alarm noises, and that's exactly what the mute button does. Everything else gets muted, including calendar reminder, Reminder app tones, etc... iPod playback and Alarms stay functional, which is perfect.

    As the guy is a new iPhone user, he must've just been playing around with the alarm clock prior to the concert, why else would he have an alarm set to go off in the middle of a concert...?

  1. climacs

    Joined: Dec 1969


    mute settings

    it is clear that there needs to be a "Mute" setting which defaults to MUTE ALL SOUNDS but allows the user to go into settings and select the type of "Mute" they wish to use.... mute ringing but not the clock alarm nor alerts, mute all sounds EXCEPT the alarm.

    I recently discovered that even with my headphones plugged in, my 4S will ring through the external speakers. When I use my headphones, I expect that ALL the sounds will be routed through the headphones and NONE through the external speakers.

  1. macvette

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Skype ignores the Mute switch

    At least with the version of the Skype iPhone app I'm using, Skype completely ignores the mute switch. When your iPhone is locked, it takes a few seconds to get to the point you can stop the ringing. This is annoying. The only way to prevent Skype from ringing is to kill the app when it's running in the background. Who checks their background apps before going into a quiet place like the library or a performance?

    I think it would be better to change ALL sounds to vibrate when the mute is turned on. If Apple wants to add a "Mute Override" control on a per App basis, that would be helpful (for morning alarms, etc.).

  1. aristotles

    Joined: Dec 1969


    ALARM Clock will not mute for a reason

    Imagine if you had set the alarm to go off the next morning so that you could catch your flight the next morning but you did not hear it because the mute switch muted it.

    The mute switch will mute everything except the alarm clock by design so that you don't have to turn off mute before going to bed but still having your phone calls and texts muted.

  1. FireWire

    Joined: Dec 1969


    could have happened to me!

    I wasn't aware that the mute switch didn't apply to alarms. I too think that Apple should include some form of profile support. My old Sony Ericsson did it and it was really convenient. For example I'd like to have a low-power mode which would turn off Location service and 3G without having to navigate to several preferences. And how can an app ignore the mute button? shouldn't that be handled at the OS level?

  1. chris2519

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I concur completely

    There should be a "Mute Everything No Matter What" switch. There just should, this is a very easy mistake to make and one that I have made as well (in the middle of a performance of "Doubt" on Broadway, thank you). Yeah, THAT wasn't too embarrassing. I really thought it was taken care of, then suddenly this mysterious noise starts coming from my bag, Ugh! And bottom line: the iPhone takes a long time to tu rn off. It's like shutting down a computer. It's not like you can just switch it on and off quickly.

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