I became more interested in Muzak after it came up it in relation to Television Delivers People by Richard Serra last night at the screening. The whole concept seems to perfectly embody the blindness and complacency imposed and enforced on the general American public in many aspects of daily life and culture. Intended to increase productivity of workers in the 40s and 50s, Muzak was carefully crafted to appeal to peoples’ emotions – but not to the extent that it would halt productivity. Essentially, the intention was to make a profit and to keep the masses calm and under control. Muzak was also used to keep shoppers in stores and had direct monetary aims. To create a database of such music, songs were classified under such categories as “dark or light, tempo, dynamic range, happy or sad, male or female, instrumentation, genre, period, geography, etc.” (http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4370). This classification of music and sound is essential to the commodification of music into sellable genres, upon which modern music industries are based. In an article on the effectiveness of muzak, the author quotes muzak historian Joseph Lanza as saying, “Elevator music (besides just being good music) is essentially a distillation of the happiness that modern technology has promised. A world without elevator music would be much grimmer than its detractors (and those who take it for granted) could ever realize.” Therefore, muzak is propaganda for the industrial age, a sort of soma out of Huxley’s Brave New World to keep the cogs moving.

Arguably, the popular music industry today works toward a similar thing: the production of music for the sake of profit. Popular music is a vehicle of all sorts of commerce, targeted especially at young people.  Images of popular music (artists/bands, concerts, artists’ personal lives, etc) become sites of commonality – become spectacle. Although popular music doesn’t necessarily aim to rally youth towards productivity in terms of factory jobs, it does involve them in the economy and national productivity. We pay to be told what we like and then we buy it all over again.

I dont know how relevant (or appropriate!) this clip is, but I think it does a good job of pointing to a specific way commodified music creates a need and fills it for consumers in an empty way. It also points to the false or simulated sense of connection that these markets create.

What do modern situationists look like? And what does modern detournement look like in the face of such huge industries?


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