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What, No Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel?
April 6, 2006 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Miles Davis? Kanye West? The Beatles? Oh... you mean Muzak? Ike played it in the West Wing, NASA used it to soothe astronauts' anxiety. But it's not just your daddy's elevator music anymore.
posted by digaman (44 comments total)

 
Also see: Ambient.
posted by digaman at 6:36 AM on April 6, 2006


That's an unfair comparison. Ambient music may reflect the "ambience" of a specific place, but that place is not the dentist's office.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:40 AM on April 6, 2006


No musical genre that has never sparked a riot is any good.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:42 AM on April 6, 2006


Who's comparing, dude? Both Muzak and ambient music as Brian Eno originally conceived of it aim to become part of the environment, enhancing but not intruding. No value judgements implied.
posted by digaman at 6:43 AM on April 6, 2006


I particularly loved this line in the primary link: "Our biggest competitor is silence."
posted by digaman at 6:48 AM on April 6, 2006


This week's issue of The New Yorker was one of the best in years. The article on Muzak was a great read, but there's also:
A new piece by David Sedaris (always welcome)
An interesting article on Oyster farming
An over-the-top satire by George Saunders
A satisfying short story by Steven Millhauser.

I give this issue the Secret Life of Gravy Seal of Splashitude! Arrrk Arrrk
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:49 AM on April 6, 2006


I feel about the ubiquitous drone of ROCK the way you feel about elevator music.

At least muzak is only in limited locations.

Annoying boring-ass ROCK is EVERYWHERE.

And you're all TOO damn clueless to even know how redundant, uncreative and incredibly BORING it really IS.
posted by HTuttle at 6:50 AM on April 6, 2006


"Our biggest competitor is silence."

I'll have some silence, please.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:53 AM on April 6, 2006


Oh dear. I don't want to be around for this impending pile-on.
posted by sourwookie at 6:54 AM on April 6, 2006


No musical genre that has never sparked a riot is any good.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:42 AM PST on April 6 [!]


But what if the riot is quiet?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:55 AM on April 6, 2006


One cultural difference I noted between the UK and the US the last time I was in England about three years ago: there often seemed to be music playing in restaurants in London, even in high-end establishments. The British-born friend who pointed this out to me was terribly annoyed by it, and, alas, after he pointed it out to me, so was I.

I will also never forget a comment made to me by an employee at a local cafe here in San Francisco. The music in the cafe was blasting, deafening, wayyyy-too-loud, and entirely inappropriate for a place where people go to read, write, and quietly converse. But when I asked the girl behind the counter, very politely, to please turn the music down just a little bit, she replied: "Oh, come on. You're gonna be here for ten minutes, and I have to be here all day!"
posted by digaman at 6:56 AM on April 6, 2006


I've noticed that my local chain grocery store is playing a lot of edgy bebop. I'm not sure why.

Maybe it is to create anxiety in old geezers so instead of wandering the store they will be compelled to make a decision on what to buy and finally do it.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:02 AM on April 6, 2006


There's an excellent article about Muzak in Radiotext(e).
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:05 AM on April 6, 2006


I was in a discount store the other day, and it took me a while to realise that their usual dreadful in-store radio wasn't working.

The place was silent, but for the sound of customers shuffling around.

The customers, also, were largely silent.

It was like a library. I felt strange.

That store didn't have what I wanted, so I walked up the street to another one, whose crappy background music was working fine.

There, customers were talking about stuff and people were striding around normally, caring not about the heaviness of their footfalls. It seemed brighter, happier, better.

That store had what I wanted. Oh, yes. Just what I wanted.
posted by dansdata at 7:13 AM on April 6, 2006


I like how the Wikipedia article reflects the public perception rather than what they actually do these days.
posted by cillit bang at 7:18 AM on April 6, 2006


from the story:
Some Muzak customers have specific musical requirements for their programs; Moe’s Southwest Grill, for example, wants only songs by Roy Orbison, Jimi Hendrix, and other artists who are dead
posted by matteo at 7:20 AM on April 6, 2006


One of the supermarkets in my area made a transition from instrumental, stereotypical "Muzak" to "lite rock." I preferred the Muzak, actually. Because you can pretty much ignore it, but shit like "Skyrockets in Flight" resonates in your head well after you leave the store and makes you want to go on a three-state killing spree to chase the Starland Vocal Band out of your mind, man!

That and I heard some hilarious string covers when the market had instrumentals: The last one was particularly awesome. "Where did all the blue skies go?/ Poison is the wind that blows from the north and east and south."
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:29 AM on April 6, 2006


I'm sick of hearing stupid, upbeat soft rock; "drugstore music," I call it, after it made he ill in a Waldgreens on the Strip in Vegas.

I am also sick of music in news broadcasts the use music under their stories--truly Orwellian.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:30 AM on April 6, 2006


Ah, yes. "Music is art; MuzakTM, the science."

I grew up when there were "easy listening"/"beautiful music" radio stations in every town. Now we have 1001 kinds of streaming audio on the 'net and I can't find a one in that format. I want my Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand, dammit!
posted by pax digita at 7:35 AM on April 6, 2006


shit like "Skyrockets in Flight" resonates in your head well after you leave the store and makes you want to go on a three-state killing spree to chase the Starland Vocal Band out of your mind, man!

So true.

And then there's this, which is playing at the local market nearly every time I go there:


What a feeling
Here's believing
I can have it all now I'm dancing for my life
Take your passion and make it happen
You just come alive
You can dance right through your life
What a feeling
Here's believing
I can have it all now I'm dancing for my life
Take your passion and make it happen
You just come alive
You can dance right through your life...

posted by digaman at 7:37 AM on April 6, 2006


a quote from the book from an Amazon reviewer:

Many from Bob Dylan, the Doors, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Mamas and the Papas, R.E.M., the B-52s, U2, and Van Morrison have been refurbished from loud, plodding, adolescent thunder to something tasteful, airy, and mystical.

Uh-huh. Airy, in the pejorative sense, yeah, but tasteful and mystical? Please.

The creators of Muzak did not see their stuff as parallel in any sense to any genre of music; they just adjusted their product to increase the workiness of the workers and the buybuybuyiness of the consumers.
posted by kozad at 7:40 AM on April 6, 2006


Was happy to see the article in this week's NYer. Especially because the Muzak site is a spiffy little destination that won the Commerce category in 2005's San Francisco Flash Film Festival Awards.
posted by CMichaelCook at 7:40 AM on April 6, 2006


i hate you digiman
posted by sourwookie at 7:45 AM on April 6, 2006


rxrfrx posted: That's an unfair comparison. Ambient music may reflect the "ambience" of a specific place, but that place is not the dentist's office.

As digiman mentioned, the work of Eno, most notably Thursday Afternoon and Neroli are not about specific places. They are excellent relaxation works and would work perfectly in dentist's offices. I use Neroli to relax on those nights when I am too wired to sleep.

And it isn't just about stores that play loud music. I've been in some stores that play a fast BPM to the point of inducing frenzy but are about the same volume as Muzak is generally played.
posted by JJ86 at 7:45 AM on April 6, 2006


digaman. Sorry.

As long as we're playing with earworms:


When I need you
I just close my eyes and I’m with you
And all that I so want to give you
It’s only a heartbeat away


Ha! Take that!
posted by sourwookie at 7:47 AM on April 6, 2006


digiman
digiman


Let's put that meme to rest right now.
posted by digaman at 7:47 AM on April 6, 2006


heh, thanks sourwookie.
posted by digaman at 7:48 AM on April 6, 2006


Wow, the Muzak site (which why isn't it linked to in the FPP?) played Miles Davis "Kind of Blue". They've come a long way, baby.
posted by Eekacat at 7:50 AM on April 6, 2006


which why isn't it linked to in the FPP?

I don't make a point of linking to official corporate sites every time mention of a company comes up, and I didn't know the Muzak site was cool until CMC's post.
posted by digaman at 7:54 AM on April 6, 2006


Once I was put on hold. The song that played while I was put on hold was muzak cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" but there was not a guitar in sight.

It was...weird.
posted by elr at 8:11 AM on April 6, 2006


Be glad you're not over here in Japan. Instead of muzak, many places have the _same_ piece of music/audio on a loop, all day every day. Sometimes it's as short as 10 or 20 minutes. Also I've noticed that some certain grocery stores, I could swear, are playing MIDI files.
posted by damo at 8:18 AM on April 6, 2006


shit like "Skyrockets in Flight" resonates in your head well after you leave the store and makes you want to go on a three-state killing spree

Not me. I just wanna get me some of that Afternoon Delight.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:19 AM on April 6, 2006


What a feeling
Here's believing
I can have it all now I'm dancing for my life


Perversely, this lyric makes me want to go away and make a mashup of this with David Hasselhof's Hooked on a Feeling.

Must resist the urge.... struggling...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:24 AM on April 6, 2006


elr: While My Ukulele Gently Weeps

Good article. Muzak has indeed changed, most likely for the better, but one of my old job's genuine Muzak system must be been stuck on their last remaining Muzak-genre station.
posted by zsazsa at 8:29 AM on April 6, 2006


I've had a fantasy for many years wherein I somehow break into a large mall's sound system and put on a Merzbow record on repeat, and then lock it up so that no one can change it or turn it down. Ahhh...

*lost in reverie*
posted by stinkycheese at 8:30 AM on April 6, 2006


The perfect soundtrack for watching FOX News with the sound off: Radiohead's Kid A.
posted by digaman at 8:39 AM on April 6, 2006


I've always loved Erik Satie's conception of "furniture music."
posted by xod at 8:39 AM on April 6, 2006


Be glad you're not over here in Japan. Instead of muzak, many places have the _same_ piece of music/audio on a loop, all day every day. Sometimes it's as short as 10 or 20 minutes. Also I've noticed that some certain grocery stores, I could swear, are playing MIDI files.
posted by damo at 8:18 AM PST on April 6


There's a sushi joint my friends and I frequent, and everytime we are in there, they have the same freaky Japanese cover-muzak. The one I hear most often is the theme from My Blue Heaven . Other times it's theme songs from old Westerns.
posted by ninjew at 8:57 AM on April 6, 2006


There's a Chinese restaurant in Portland that I used to go to a lot, and the music always used to weird me out a little bit. I couldn't figure out why - it was very quiet (but still audible) asian-esque music, exactly what you might expect to hear in a slightly divey Chinese place, but there was something about the music that was always strangely familiar. Then one day I listened closer and realized that the song playing was a bizarre solo violin cover of Time After Time. I lost my appetite.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:44 AM on April 6, 2006


I got to visit the Muzak HQ in January -- I was really impressed with how high-tech the place was and how genuinely hip all of the people were. I got to spend a good amount of time with one of the gentlemen quoted in the article and I have to say, being one of their Audio Architects would be a pretty sweet job.

Soon after that, my wife and I were on vacation and had only one restaurant available to us. Each time we were in there both of us were totally impressed with the mix of '80s music they played. Deep cuts too...B-Sides by The Cars, Elvis Costello, and a New Order track I had never heard before. After our fourth meal there (which got old, believe me), I asked the guy behind the counter what we were listening to and he pointed to Muzak receiver box.

Elevator music it ain't!
posted by Overzealous at 1:53 PM on April 6, 2006


There's a bookstore I frequent that plays all sorts of stuff. They'll play some Nirvana one moment, and ten minutes later they might be playing some big band jazz from the 20s.

Of course, probably the only reason they don't have Muzak is because nobody's reported them for playing copyrighted music to a public audience.

Which is the main reason why I'm not saying what the place is called.
posted by Target Practice at 2:14 PM on April 6, 2006


I was shopping at a cool grocery store that employed a pianist. He played a grand piano on an elevated platform and wore a top hat.
posted by ODiV at 3:45 PM on April 6, 2006


digiman
digital manthing
digiman is the CHAMPYUN!
posted by Sparx at 7:24 PM on April 6, 2006


This all started with Music While You Work(wav file) from Radio Days.
I sometimes wonder how these places would react if a load of people started singing along with the musak, that could be a great flash mob prank.
posted by Lanark at 3:08 AM on April 7, 2006


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