Wednesday 15 August 2012

till we both break down and cry....

As you would probably guess, I'm not a big fan of muzak.

I like to think that my music taste is a pretty broad church: there's lots of stuff that I don't like, of course... but on the whole I would say that I listen to a pretty wide range of stuff.  Classical music seems to freak me out for some reason, but other than that, I'm comfortable listening to most genres.  I don't like all rap, say, but I do like some rap and that means I can't simply dismiss it all as being crap.  There's good and bad in every genre, right?

But muzak?  What's the point?  Whether I like a song or I don't like a song, I fail to see what you gain by stripping a tune back and turning it into elevator music.  If it's a song I already dislike, then it's hardly likely to be improved by being put through a filter of deliberate blandness, and if it's a song I like then they will almost certainly butcher it by stripping out any sort of emotion and trying to make it as inoffensive as possible.  It's a lose: lose.  It's supposed to be unobtrusive, I think, but somehow it's very unobtrusiveness forces it into my consciousness and I find it almost impossible to ignore.

C's in Germany at the moment, but as her mother is staying with us, she took me out for dinner at a local Thai restaurant.  It was a lovely meal, but the edge was taken off - just a little bit - by the fact that they were playing muzak.

At one point, C's mother asked "Is this Thai music?"
"No, it's a muzak version of 'Sometimes When We Touch'"

It's not a song I'm especially fond of under any circumstances, but for all its supposed unobtrusiveness, talking about the music seemed to give it power.  Although I did my best to ignore it, it managed to find a way to blandly hammer its way into my skull.  Then, after about ten minutes, it dawned on me that not only was the restaurant playing muzak - bad enough - but they were in fact playing the same crappy muzak version of "Sometimes When We Touch" over and over and over again.

For about an hour.

I mentioned it to the waitress, and she smiled and nodded at me, but again, mentioning the music gave it  some sort of infernal power, and about five minutes later she started animatedly telling her colleague that the CD seemed stuck on a loop.  The couple at the table behind us began to talk about it too.  The virus was spreading.  The supposedly inoffensive muzak was unobtrusively worming its way into the centre of every conversation in the room.

After a couple of minutes of fiddling with the remote control to the stereo, the waitresses panicked and turned the whole thing off, leaving us all to let the blessed relief of silence to wash over us.

Of course, even though the CD has been switched off and I left the restaurant an hour ago, you know what's hammering through my mind, right?  I'm resigning myself to the horrible thought that I'm going to drift off to sleep with this tune in my head and I'm going to wake up with this song on my lips.  I'll probably be humming it gently to myself if I have to get up in the night, too.  It's all horribly inevitable.

Deedee dee de dee.  Deedee de de dee dee deede.


Forget parental advisory stickers on rap CDs.... they should be rounding up all muzak and burying it deep inside a swiss mountain.  That shit is toxic.

** edit: I've just seen this on my Facebook timeline (thanks Graham):  it seems I'm not alone in my dislike of this "piped sonic sewage".  Will Self: "Is there nowhere I can escape the tyranny of muzak?"**


  1. I didn't realize that this was a relatively new phenomena for you until just now. I've been dealing with Muzak for years. In most of the restaurants in my area of the world it is played loud enough to interrupt your conversation if you recognize the song at all. It makes it completely impossible to tune out.

    In my restaurant they have something called Ambiance, which is supposed to be Muzak that thinks. It takes data from our computer systems and adjusts the music according to the sales, time of day, etc.. We like it better than its old Muzak counterpart, you can even catch the staff singing along sometimes. Some of our older patrons hate it because it is mostly popular music and I live in a conservative area. Truthfully, I tune it out most days.

    The only thing that truly bothers me is the system seems to know when its raining- we're assaulted with a barrage of depressing, hopelessly romantic, slow-ass songs every time it rains. Boss says it doesn't have weather in its part of the computer. Creepy, eh?


  2. The Chinese Muzak version of "Wonderwall" is a personal favourite.