The day the muzak died.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If elevator music stops playing and nobody notices, does it matter if it was ever playing at all? Your answer to the latter may depend on your propensity for anxiety: It’s often said that music was first piped into elevators to calm the nerves of early passengers frightened about plummeting to their deaths.
Others say it was simply a way to entertain them. Certainly, this explains the enduring existence of background music in the public sphere. French composer Erik Satie is often credited with having invented the concept: Between 1917 and 1923, he wrote five pieces of what he called “furniture music, ” designed to “be a part of the surrounding noises”—heard, but not listened to. What is now referred to as “muzak, ” after the company that spent so much of
Photograph:Heinz Kluetmeier/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
This story appears in a print issue of Kinfolk. You’re welcome to read three stories from each print issue of Kinfolk for free. To continue reading this story, click here.
If you'd like to enjoy unlimited access to our online archive, subscribe here. If you’re already a subscriber, please sign in.
Alternatively, keep browsing Kinfolk.com to enjoy more free content.