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Triple Entendre

Triple Entendre: Furniture Music, Muzak, Muzak-Plus

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Triple Entendre
    Book Description:

    Triple Entendre discusses the rise and spread of background music in contexts as diverse as office workplaces, shopping malls, and musical performance. Hervé Vanel examines background music in several guises, including Erik Satie's "Furniture Music" of the late 1910s and early 1920s, which first demonstrated the idea of a music not meant to be listened to, and the Muzak Corporation's commercialized ambient music that became a predominant feature of modern life in the 1940s. Vanel's discussion culminates in the creative response of the composer John Cage to the pervasiveness and power of background music in contemporary society. By examining the subterranean connections existing between these three formulations of a singular idea, Triple Entendre analyzes and challenges the crucial boundary that separates an artistic concept from its actual implementation in life.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09525-2
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: Cage Free
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. 1-9)

    In October 1961, to his own puzzlement, the avant-garde composer John Cage was commissioned by the artist and thinker Gyorgy Kepes to write an essay on the questions of module, rhythm, proportion, symmetry, beauty, balance, and so on.² Cage’s piece was to contribute to the collective volumeModule, Proportion, Symmetry, Rhythm, part of the “Vision + Value” series, finally published in 1966.³ As he had done before,⁴ Cage used his score forCartridge Music(1960) as a tool and ended up designing his piece of writing following a set of directives such as: “from line 24 to line 57, tell...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Furniture Music: A Musical Irresolution by Erik Satie
    (pp. 10-45)

    That the French composer Erik Satie (1866–1925) could be considered—at least until the 1970s—as a “musical analphabet”¹ certainly motivated John Cage’s respect for his art. If nothing else, his analphabetic status signaled the degree to which Satie had shaken the tradition of “serious music” and infuriated the guardians of its flame. Satie himself gladly upheld his reputation, introducing his 1912Memoirs of an Amnesiacby saying, “Everybody will tell you that I am not a musician. This is correct.”² Who else but such an analphabet could have posthumously received—more or less ironically—the questionable title of...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Muzak Incorporated
    (pp. 46-83)

    In the beginning was the word, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as follows:Muzak(also erron.Musak): “The proprietary name of a system of piped music for factories, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.; also used loosely, with small initial, to designate recorded light background music generally.” Muzak “proper” owes its name to General George Owen Squier (1865–1934), a chief signal officer in the United States Army who, in 1922, founded Wired Inc., a company “employ[ing] electric power lines to transmit news programs, music, lectures, general entertainment and advertising directly into private homes.”⁴ In 1934, inspired by the catchy, popular brand...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Muzak-Plus and the Art of Participation
    (pp. 84-125)

    If John Cage remains one of the most controversial composers of the second half of the twentieth century, it may be because he had little interest in music, after all. “For many years,” he said in 1974, “I’ve noticed that music as an activity separated from the rest of life doesn’t enter my mind. Strictly musical questions are no longer serious questions.”¹ There should be no surprise, then, in discovering Cage’s long-lasting interest in muzak. His curiosity about the most despised form of canned music does not imply, however, that he liked Muzak, or that he was sympathetic to its...

  8. Conclusion: The Community to Come
    (pp. 126-134)

    Ultimately, Cage’s Muzak-plus addresses his idealistic belief that art could foster a revolution in society, one that would lead not to a transfer of power but, in an anarchist fashion, to its pulverization in the hands of the individual members of a collective. Still, in the aftermath of World War II, any suggestion that art could be at the service of society was met with increased suspicion. Whether directly or indirectly, suggested Cage himself, any willingness to improve the world may only end up making the matter worse.¹ One could read this warning as a summary of Muzak’s self-styled ambition....

  9. Notes
    (pp. 135-180)
  10. References
    (pp. 181-188)
  11. Index
    (pp. 189-196)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-200)