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    Posts filed under || Music

    Hildegard Westerkamp on Background Music

    written on April 23rd, 2016


    Yesterday, Hildegard Westerkamp shared this story on the Acoustic Ecology listserv, and I thought it might be worth sharing with a larger audience. Although I might not share Westerkamp’s views on the nature of listening (“But does anyone actually listen to the music  – or to the intent behind the music, for that matter?”), her letter is a poignant critique of muzak’s insidious power of anesthetization and distraction.

    Without further ado…


    Dear Colleagues and Friends,

    Today is Earth Day, a perfect day to share with you a letter I just wrote to the PlayNetwork after they approached me to use one of my compositions for background music purposes! Imagine Gently Penetrating beneath the sounding surfaces of another place  – that’s the piece they requested as a starter – at Starbucks!

    Here is the letter (The irony was just too enormous for me not to respond in this fashion!):

    It seems rather strange and ironic that I would be approached to add my music to the libraries of the background music market. My  compositions do not lend themselves at all to be heard as background music, and I will certainly not make it available. Thank you for the offer, but it goes absolutely against everything that I am trying to do as a composer.

    Background music insidiously distracts people from the real social, environmental and cultural issues in this world. The Muzak Corporation and all other leased music companies have been rather successful in creating obedient consumers (and workers) for decades now, who essentially and with deaf ears provide the huge profits that are being made through the creation of background music atmospheres. How is it, that millions of so-called listeners (or ‘impressions’, as you call them in your email below!) have been convinced that they cannot live without music during every day of their lives. But does anyone actually listen to the music  – or to the intent behind the music, for that matter? No, of course not. It has been the corporate intent all along, to create audiences who do not listen, who swallow any musical sound presented to them and thus enable the profit-making of the background music industry.

    In a world in which environmental and social issues are emerging everywhere, alert ears and minds are needed to notice and counteract these grave conditions. The ongoing efforts by the background music industry to ‘soothe’ its audiences into false comfort and numb ears and minds into a kind of haze of inattention, are outright irresponsible and rather sinister under these urgent circumstances in which our world currently finds itself.

    In your email below you say please consider the environment before printing this email. Equally, please consider the acoustic environment and the ears and mental sanity of your listeners, before continuing to devalue the real quality of music and the world’s acoustic environments. In that spirit, I will not contribute my music to PlayNetwork, and thus will not become part of a “brand that moves consumers” as it says so poignantly on your website. I also have not printed your email.

    I am pretty convinced that no one at PlayNetwork has actually listened to my music, and that this request does not come from an informed listener, but rather from the corporate context of collecting as many ‘tunes’ or ‘songs’ as possible for the purpose of making profit.

    With best regards,
    Hildegard Westerkamp


    || filed under: Academia, Music, Sound
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    The Future of Festivals

    written on February 15th, 2016

    9 Futures: Sounds Fragmenting

    »So all of these festivals that the film looks at, they are more or less – in my mind – run by people who come out of the late 80s and early 90s. The European techno scene. And that idea of music as a seismograph of societal change – that’s really important. So the film tries to look at – or prompt – each different festival – the organisers, the artists involved – to try and rethink it and go ‘Where are we? Are we succeeding at this?«

    —Nathan Budzinski, The Future of Festivals

    Lately, I’ve been writing quite a few articles for Seismograf – a journal for contemporary music and sound art. I’ve just submitted a piece on SØS Gunver Ryberg’s newest album, AFTRYK, which should be out next week. I’ll do my best to translate the Danish articles and bring them for you here. But for now, I’d like to share this longform interview I did with former contributor to The Wire Nathan Budzinski, about his film 9 Futures: Sounds Fragmenting and the current state of experimental electronic music festivals.

    It’s all about what festivals actually are – why they exist, who creates them and for what reason. There’s a good bit of Jacques Attali’s Noise in there and we talk about how capitalist society needs these breaks from the boredom of everyday life. How you go to festivals to escape into an alternative space of dreams, insobriety and sound.

    In any case, you can read The Future of Festivals here.

    || filed under: Festivals, Interviews, Music
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    written on September 3rd, 2015

    Last night I watched Modulations: Cinema for the Ear by Lara Lee. The documentary tracks the evolution of electronica in the 20th century starting from Russolo, Stockhausen and Kraftwerk. The film shows what electronic music was like in 1998, and what it might become.


    Although Modulations does a decent job of showing musicians from both the US, Europe and Japan, the representation of female artists leaves a lot to be desired. Where are the awesome ladies of The Radiophonic Workshop? What about Wendy Carlos, Éliane Radigue, Electric Indigo, Lady D or DJ Colette (all of the Chicago female DJ-collective SuperJane for that matter)?

    What we do get, are some brilliant interviews with the likes of Terre Thaemlitz, Kodwo Eshun, David Toop, Giorgio Moroder, Simon Reynolds, dxt, Oval, Tetsu Inoue, Genesis P-Orridge, Pierre Henry and Juan Atkins…

    || filed under: Films, Music
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    Field of Reeds.

    written on June 6th, 2013


    What’s so subtle about this album is how this nostalgia of the broken is not only conveyed through Jack’s whispered psychosis-like poetics. The broken is inherent in the music. Syncopation regressing into a lack of any discernible rhythm, words, instrumentation. Everything is in a state of unrest. It is collapsing, and that is why I understand. This is not a melodramatic musing on my part. I understand because I understand that things collapse. It’s nothing new. Freud, Schoenberg or Hofmannsthal could have told you in Vienna, more than a century ago. Mental, musical, verbal.

    Albums like this do not come about every year. Well-crafted, ethereal, enigmatic.

    Graham Sutton has made sure that everything is kept at a mumble. As with so many of his own accomplishments, we’re not allowed to hear what’s really there. There is something there.
    Although Field of Reeds is mixed wonderfully low, it is not laden with silence. The textures are thick and the keys and occasional bass are thick and expansive. Even the vocals are murmured with a consistency that spreads itself across the spectrum. My current favourite is the second stand out track, Organ Eternal. The Glassian tubular organ and deep strings wraps around the track and suffocates my ears.
    Yesterday, I biked home in the dark and as Organ Eternal came on, and the screams of children (or falcons?) came from outside of my headphones. Sutton knows this. He takes no one by the hand, but pushes you in, head first.

    In between the Islands // where we used to swim //
    Not the suspect // not the victim // I am the reason //
    The things you leave behind // with an end // with a beginning //

    I cannot help but read this as yet another Suburbs, another Wee Small Hours of the Morning, another Blemish…

    Like Blemish, Field of Reeds is a play on sparsity. How little can be crammed into a song before it collapses out of pop music favour? For whatever reason, I want Field of Reeds to be an experiment in silence, but it isn’t.

    Jack pushes his songs to the point of rupture, but only to demonstrate where the borders of convention exist. This is not avant-garde – if such a term is still appropriate – but an outstretched hand to guide you through what popular music can be.



    Fields of them

    || filed under: Albums, Music
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