:: MUZAK - Teach Me Tonight ::
What is Muzak? Why is Muzak? Is Muzak inherently evil? I hope to answer some of these important questions today.
I worked in a grocery store for 6 years that played a Muzak tape loop, which was probably about 8 hours in length and played over and over the entire time I worked there. Now, I'm the kind of person who can't help but listen to music when it's there, which can be really annoying at times (take for example how our government seems to love to use music as a torture device), but in the six years I worked in that store, none of that Muzak left a lasting impression on me as far as I could tell. I hated the principle of it, because I knew that it was "programmed" to make people want to buy more Wonder Bread and Sugar Smacks, but even though it was banal crap, it didn't bother me that much. Sometimes I'd make an effort to really tune in to it, but it was so wallpaperish the first distraction that came along would wipe it from my consciousness. So yeah, it bugged me because I knew it was getting into my subconscious and was maybe even affecting my behavior in some way, but I could never understand how.
Back in the 1920s, a retired military man named Major General George O. Squier patented an invention that allowed audio to be transmitted over power lines. He had the idea that music played in the workplace would increase productivity, so he piped it into offices to keep typists typing. He sold the patent to a large utility company, and they created the Muzak Corporation. At first they tried to charge people to bring music into their home but free broadcast radio killed that idea. By the '30s they were piping music into elevators in high rises in New York, mostly as a way of calming peoples nerves, and thus inventing "elevator music." They also focused on businesses like hotels and restaurants sending music via phone lines from a central location, where they played pre-programmed 33 1/3 rpm LPs, about 20 years before they were available to the general public.
In the mean time, a team of British industrial psychologists were looking into the General's theory about music increasing productivity in the workplace. During WWII music was found to have great benefits in improving the moral of the troops abroad and the workers in the bomb factories at home. Great scientific strides were made in understanding the subliminal effects of music on people's moods and behaviors, and Muzak seemed to have a monopoly on it's implementation. Ultimately, the theory of Stimulus Progression was born.
If Stimulus Progression sounds scary there's good reason. Basically, here what it is: In the workplace, music is played in 15 minute intervals. During the 15 minutes there's maybe 5 songs. The first one is kind of slow and subdued, then the next one picks up a little bit and so on until the last song of the cycle which totally rocks (in a Muzak sort of way), thus stimulating the workers subliminally. The weird part is they would follow this with 15 minutes of silence to keep the music from becoming a distraction. I don't think I've ever worked in that office, although I think I do remember being in certain businesses where the Muzak seemed to go away for a while, then crept up on you again. Kinda creepy like.
If you're like me, and you don't like the idea of a bunch of shrinks sitting around trying to figure out ways to make us work harder and buy more crap, then yeah, Muzak is evil. But what are you gonna do about it, hippie? In the mean time they've done some good things too, like inventing the tape loop system that was used in my grocery store, which was a forerunner to the 8-track tape. So really I guess there's not so much to be afraid of when it comes to Muzak. It's just dull background music. The company is still around, although they've been bought and sold a million times and nowadays instead of using instrumental versions of popular hits, they tend to play original recordings by Sting and Elton John, arranged in a way that makes capitalism work, somehow.
This LP was meant to be a demo for Stimulus Progression. "Teach Me Tonight" is the first song on side 2, so it's the one that sneaks up on you after 15 minutes of silence. I have to admit I kind of like this album. It sure did help me type this post in no time at all! Now I need a drink.