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The Vacuum Issue 9 spacer Issue 9
Muzak For The Masses
by Stephen Hackett
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Ambient Mince:
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Listen to the sound of panpipes as we walk down High street evoking a saunter through the Amazonian rainforests. Amble into Mac Donald's for a Double cheeseburger and have ones bowels relaxed by the dulcet tones of The Beatles 'Get back', rendered into a mulch of flowing flute melodies and gentle guitar licks. Pick up the phone and wait in line for your call to be answered, as a relaxing Hammond organ version of 'the entertainer' clams your nerves. Lovely. This is the world of Muzak/ Ambient/New Age or Easy listening, a particular subsection of 'Music', music you're not really meant to listen to, it fills in the void.
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Muzak was the brain child of General George Squier who patented the transmission of canned background music in his factories in the 1920s, he found that it not only relaxed the minds of his workers, it increased production. He arrived at the name "Muzak" by combining the word "music" with the name of one of his favourite companies, Kodak. Muzak is what you hear when you go about minding your own business, it is barely noticeable, deliberately so. You'll here it in Shopping centres; retail stores and down the phone. It takes your mind off the fact you're either spending money, in a potential dangerous environment, it makes you work harder takes you outside of your solipsistic existence. It mingles in with other sounds around you. It is the sound of dolphins, cheap synthesisers, water, birdsong, panpipes, and Spanish guitars. It has no time for Dog's barking, burglar alarms, chanting crowds or machine gun fire.
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Muzak goes by another name 'Elevator music' perhaps because this is one of the few places where you can here it without other sounds to distract you, one of the few locations where muzak is actively listened too. The fear of the lift cable breaking and crashing you to the ground is alleviated by genteel airy classical or jazz music. Brian Eno (formally of Roxy Music, producer of U2) had the same idea in the late 70s. Eno wanted his first ambient album, 'Music for Airport's', to be played in airports to help people come to terms with the possibility "that they might die in a fiery plane crash in a matter of hours."
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Muzak For The Masses
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Muzak For The Masses
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Industrial Hum:
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A few years ago I made my own music (or noise), it was a sort of ambient drone music which sounded like the hum of a powerline with dolphins jumping on top etc. I'd listen to a lot of electro acoustic and processed music (high minded academic stuff) and concluded that some of it was not so different from the new age muzak peddled on health and beauty shops. I used a battery powered fan with a bit of string attached, it spun round and hit the strings and the resultant sounds came out like a lazy brook down river- a bubbling stream of vitality (as they might say in the new age market). I thought it sounded quite relaxing but couldn't shake the idea that if people got off on natures own harmonies (babbling brooks and birdsong) there where also a group of us who got off on the sounds of the city. The sound of industrial machinery, powerline hums, this was relaxation music of a different sort. It was the futurists idea of relaxation music.
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There are now a number of genres within music, which exemplify the empty conceit of Muzak. The general approach is that this sort of music should not confuse the listener, it should be unobtrusive and promise transcendence and spiritual wellbeing. So we have new age, Trance, ethno-tribal and ambient. This also covers a range of sub world music.
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The evil that is Coulter. This is not elevator or grocery store music! This IS serious music up there with Beethoven, Bach and Chopin. But more pleasant to listen to than most of their music. Review of Phil Coulters 'Scottish Tranquillity' Album.
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I can't abide Phil Coulter. Coulter is Northern Ireland's king of Muzak. What he does isn't really marketted or sold as Muzak, its similar and probably more offensive. Sometimes it's bracketed under New Age or easylistening. But I would go for Celtic mince, in the same field as Enya and Enigma. The Coulter formula is to take a standard song and squeeze any life or interest out of it; it is designed to kill any remaining energy or activity in old people's homes. Coulter has written a few popular tunes in his time He penned Sandy Shaw's Eurovision winning 'Puppet on a string' and produced high profile artists such as Sinead O Connor. In 1984 Coulter started his tea strainer approach to music making with 'Sea of tranquillity' its all there in the title, the reference to nature and idea of mental well being and fulfilment. The sea of Tranquillity is on the moon and as everybody knows is space no one can hear you scream.
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