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Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong; Revised and Expanded Edition

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It's campy, it's cool, empty, intrusive, trite, and treacly. It's Big Brother singing. Call it what you will -- elevator music, Moodsong ® easy listening, or Muzak ®. For a musical genre that was supposed to offend no one, it has a lot of enemies. Musical cognoscenti decry its insipid content; regular folk -- if they notice -- bemoan its pervasiveness; while hipsters and ca It's campy, it's cool, empty, intrusive, trite, and treacly. It's Big Brother singing. Call it what you will -- elevator music, Moodsong ® easy listening, or Muzak ®. For a musical genre that was supposed to offend no one, it has a lot of enemies. Musical cognoscenti decry its insipid content; regular folk -- if they notice -- bemoan its pervasiveness; while hipsters and campsters celebrate its retro chic. Mindful of the many voices, Joseph Lanza's Elevator Music sings seriously, with tongue in cheek, the praises of this venerable American institution. Lanza addresses the criticisms of elites who say that Muzak and its ilk are dehumanized, vapid, or cheesy. These reactions, he argues, are based more on cultural prejudices than honest musical appraisal. Says Lanza, today's so-called mood music is the inheritor of a long tradition of mood-altering music stretching back to the ancients; Nero's fiddle and the sirens of Odysseus being two famous examples. Contemporary atmospheric music, Lanza argues, not only serves the same purpose, it is also the inevitable background for our media-dominated age. One of Lanza's premises, to quote Mark Twain, is that this music is "better than it sounds." "This book will have succeeded in its purpose," he writes, "if I can help efface...the distinction between one person's elevator music and another's prized recording." Joseph Lanza is an author, producer, and music historian. His most recent book is Russ Columbo and the Crooner Mystique.


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It's campy, it's cool, empty, intrusive, trite, and treacly. It's Big Brother singing. Call it what you will -- elevator music, Moodsong ® easy listening, or Muzak ®. For a musical genre that was supposed to offend no one, it has a lot of enemies. Musical cognoscenti decry its insipid content; regular folk -- if they notice -- bemoan its pervasiveness; while hipsters and ca It's campy, it's cool, empty, intrusive, trite, and treacly. It's Big Brother singing. Call it what you will -- elevator music, Moodsong ® easy listening, or Muzak ®. For a musical genre that was supposed to offend no one, it has a lot of enemies. Musical cognoscenti decry its insipid content; regular folk -- if they notice -- bemoan its pervasiveness; while hipsters and campsters celebrate its retro chic. Mindful of the many voices, Joseph Lanza's Elevator Music sings seriously, with tongue in cheek, the praises of this venerable American institution. Lanza addresses the criticisms of elites who say that Muzak and its ilk are dehumanized, vapid, or cheesy. These reactions, he argues, are based more on cultural prejudices than honest musical appraisal. Says Lanza, today's so-called mood music is the inheritor of a long tradition of mood-altering music stretching back to the ancients; Nero's fiddle and the sirens of Odysseus being two famous examples. Contemporary atmospheric music, Lanza argues, not only serves the same purpose, it is also the inevitable background for our media-dominated age. One of Lanza's premises, to quote Mark Twain, is that this music is "better than it sounds." "This book will have succeeded in its purpose," he writes, "if I can help efface...the distinction between one person's elevator music and another's prized recording." Joseph Lanza is an author, producer, and music historian. His most recent book is Russ Columbo and the Crooner Mystique.

30 review for Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong; Revised and Expanded Edition

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Reading ELEVATOR MUSIC has the same effect on me as actually listening to Muzak or an easy listening music station on the radio. It's a very relaxing, calm read which, considering the state of the world as of March 2020 (if you're reading this in the future and don't understand, look up COVID-19), is an essential balm to my heart and soul. There's a lot of name and brand dropping which is very off-putting as someone not very deep into the history of Muzak, and it's not done in a very beginner fr Reading ELEVATOR MUSIC has the same effect on me as actually listening to Muzak or an easy listening music station on the radio. It's a very relaxing, calm read which, considering the state of the world as of March 2020 (if you're reading this in the future and don't understand, look up COVID-19), is an essential balm to my heart and soul. There's a lot of name and brand dropping which is very off-putting as someone not very deep into the history of Muzak, and it's not done in a very beginner friendly way. But there are a lot of interesting stories and is an overall good introduction to the world of chill elevator music. Also, I would hope that if this book was ever revised and re-released for newer trends in Muzak, they would delve into the popular YouTube music genre that is lo-fi hip-hop and chillhop; I would love to read an oral history behind the rise of anime girls wearing headphones while studying to SoulChef and L'indecis.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jack Tomascak

    Ultimately Lanza's argument surrounding the aesthetic and cultural worth of Muzak in its original form (that is, soft instrumental compositions or arrangements of popular songs heard in public spaces via a distant selector/curator) is understandable and interesting to hear -- as is his vision towards the proliferation of vaporwave. Just wish I didn't have to wade through an almost unbearably long tangent on mood music composers / hi-fi listening made for the home / the construction of easy liste Ultimately Lanza's argument surrounding the aesthetic and cultural worth of Muzak in its original form (that is, soft instrumental compositions or arrangements of popular songs heard in public spaces via a distant selector/curator) is understandable and interesting to hear -- as is his vision towards the proliferation of vaporwave. Just wish I didn't have to wade through an almost unbearably long tangent on mood music composers / hi-fi listening made for the home / the construction of easy listening as a genre, smack in the middle of the book to get there. The majority of the book otherwise covers programmed music in public spaces, Muzak as a company, etc. Easy listening as genre is brought up again in a brief chapter regarding New Age/space music -- the length spent on Vangelis and Hearts of Space is about as much as should be covered on Jackie Gleason, Martin Denny, etc in a book centered on the listening experience outside of the home as a means for shifting affect.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mike S

    Pretty entertaining romp through the history of music made strictly for the purpose of alteration of mood. Starts with the 19th century's answer to Brian Eno, Erik Satie, and traces his influences through the birth of Muzak, the development of mood-altering music as home appliance, and an interesting discussion of fairly recently developments in the field.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    Joseph Lanza has written a very important cultural history book - the history of background music or the music you don't listen to while waiting in a store, subway station, etc. In other words Muzak. Who makes this stuff? Why?? And is it even an art? Great book!

  5. 4 out of 5

    heidi

    For a Music and Technology class. It helps to broaden one's definition of music; it gave me a nice slice of humble pie. My definition of art, and aesthetics was challenged, and once again I must work to redefine my personal definitions. sigh.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ray Dinterman

    Not exactly "light" reading. But if you have ever wondered about the history of "Elevator Music" this books gives you all you need to know.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jason Clarke

    The social manipulation part of this story is interesting, but like the music it chronicles, the book began to bore me about halfway through. I don’t have an abiding interest in the people that were responsible for easy listening music, so their mini biographies and accomplishments were not engaging. I put it down and have not picked it up again.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brimmer

    Some interesting stuff here about the evolution of muzak. But as mentioned by a previous reviewer the middle of the book gets bogged down in descriptions and biographies of mood music composers and lps. A few errors in the book too : Mertropolis was released in 1927 not 1919. And Olivia Newton John’s song Magic is incorrectly named as We Are Magic.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Miguel Arsénio

    An amazing and rather captivating introduction to the world of easy-listening and mood music. Despite being a fan of the genre, I still learned a lot about its roots and references. Great reading.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gerald

    Excellently researched and entertaining. As is a quarter century old now, could use an updated edition.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Dumont

    Fantastic, eye-opening, a great resource.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    This book definitely addresses a gap in musicology. Positive: The author understands the forms involved. He gets industry participants to talk. He gets behind the song selection, arrangement, delivery, performance, and production techniques and scientific rationale of mood/elevator/Muzak music. Excellent discography. Negative: Book could use better editing. A chapter on the Nineties-centered mood music revival would have been nice, although one can guess the author's take on this sort of Muzak for This book definitely addresses a gap in musicology. Positive: The author understands the forms involved. He gets industry participants to talk. He gets behind the song selection, arrangement, delivery, performance, and production techniques and scientific rationale of mood/elevator/Muzak music. Excellent discography. Negative: Book could use better editing. A chapter on the Nineties-centered mood music revival would have been nice, although one can guess the author's take on this sort of Muzak for hipsters by reading between the lines.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Padraic

    Read this. Liked it. Heard this week Muzak was filing Chapter 11. Made my week.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Horton

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Soshinsky

  16. 5 out of 5

    Whet

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chip Jacobs

  19. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jon Bounds

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  22. 5 out of 5

    alan hughs

  23. 4 out of 5

    Haven

  24. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Lesniak

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brad

  26. 4 out of 5

    david smith

  27. 5 out of 5

    Barış Alpertan

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kersti

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kraus

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

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