NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1934 __ Muzak
Comment : Muzak Holdings LLC is a company based in metro Fort Mill, South Carolina, United States, just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, founded in 1934, that is best known for distribution of music to retail stores and other companies. The original technical basis for Muzak was developed by inventor Major General George O. Squier who, in the early 1920s, was granted several US patents related to transmission of information signals, among them a system for the transmission and distribution of signals over electrical lines. Squier recognized the potential for this technology to be used to deliver music to listeners without the use of radio technology, which at the time was in a nascent state and required fussy and expensive equipment. The rights to the Squier’s patents were acquired by the North American Company utility conglomerate, which created a company named Wired Radio Inc. with the intent to use the technique to deliver music subscriptions to private customers of the utility’s power service. Squier remained involved in the project, and was reportedly intrigued by the made-up word Kodak being used as a trademark and so took the "mus" sound from music and added the "ak" from Kodak to create his word Muzak. By the time a workable Muzak system was fully developed, however, commercial radio had become well established and so the company re-focused its efforts on using the technology to deliver music to hotels and restaurants. The first actual delivery of Muzak to commercial customers took place in New York City in 1936. At this time the technology involved remained rather crude as the music originated from record players manually operated at a central office location; the economy of scale dictated that the more businesses subscribed to the service, the lower the overall cost became. The company aggressively pursued expanding the use of the music service to workplaces, citing research that indicated that background music improved productivity among workers. The company began conducting its own psychological research, and began customizing the pace and style of the music provided throughout the workday in an effort to maintain productivity (a technique it called ‘’Stimulus Progression’’). It also began recommending that the music be provided at low, almost subliminal, volume levels, and discovered that alternating blocks of music with periods of silence increased the effectiveness of the product. Muzak also began producing its own music (rather than paying to use others’ records). The style of music used was deliberately bland, so as not to intrude on foreground tasks, and adhered to precise limitations in tempo and dynamics. This style of music blended into the background as intended in most situations, but was sometimes noticeable (particularly in quiet spaces such as elevators). Thus the word “Muzak” began to be used as a pejorative for this type of “elevator music”. A growing awareness among the public that Muzak was deliberately targeted to manipulate behavior resulted in a backlash, including accusations of being a brainwashing technique and court challenges in the 1950s.However, the popularity of Muzak remained high. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first to pump Muzak into the West Wing. NASA also used Muzak in many of its space missions to soothe astronauts and occupy any periods of inactivity. Over the next two decades the basic programming approach would remain unchanged while the technology used moved forward: tape recordings replaced records; the transmission system used moved from power lines to telephone lines and eventually subcarriers on commercial FM stations, and finally via satellite. During this time Muzak became a franchise operation, with local offices purchasing rights to the music, delivery technology, and brand name for their geographic areas. The company again changed hands several times, winding up a division of the Field Corporation in the mid-1980s. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Muzak gradually moved away from the “elevator music” approach to multiple specialized channels of music. Muzak also pioneered ‘’audio architecture’’, a unique process of designing custom music play lists for specific clients. Also during this period, it acquired a “foreground music” service and began offering music channels of commercially-available recordings intended to match the targeted environment. By the late 1990s the Muzak corporation had rebranded thoroughly, and today little of the music Muzak distributes consists of re-recorded instrumental versions of popular songs, although the service still continues as the "Environmental" channel. Today, Muzak offers over 80 channels of satellite music in addition to customizable music programs tailored to their clients' needs. According to EchoStar, Muzak's distribution provider, Muzak's business music service is broadcast on rented bandwidth from Echostar VII, in geostationary orbit at 119 degrees west longitude. (From musak.com)
Source : Sumrell, Robert & Varnelis, Kazys (2007), "Blue Monday — Stories of Absurd Realities and Natural Philosophies", Actar, 2007.
Source : Vanel, Hervé (2008), “John Cage's Muzak-Plus: The Fu(rni)ture of Music”, In Representations, Number Spring 2008, N° 102, University of California Press, Pages 94–128.
Source : Lanza, Joseph (1994), “Elevator Music : A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening and other Moodsong”, New York: Picador.
Urls : http://www.muzak.com/ (last visited )

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