I need to learn more about Erik Satie (1866-1925). I probably played one of the Gymnopédies as a kid, but over the years I never really got into him, or more that he just wasn't on my radar. Recently, I read a few passing references to him in something or other that said he helped usher music into the 20th century and that lead me to get a recording from the library. I've been constantly listening to Eve Egoyan's Hidden Corners ever since, plotting to get more, too, BUT THEN, I was reading some of Schafer's The Tuning of the World, when out of nowhere he writes:
The anomie of modern life had already been effectively described in Satie's deadpan musique d'ameublement – the original Moozak [sic]. When Satie designed this entertainment for the intermission of a play at a Paris art gallery in 1920, he intended that the spectators should move about and ignore the music, which was to be regarded as so much upholstery. Unfortunately, everyone stopped to listen. Music was then still something to be prized; it had not yet flipped over to its new function as background drool; and Satie had to rush about crying 'Parlez! Parlez!' (p. 110)
Sooo...Satie is the originator of stock music?!
A quick label history lesson first: Muzak is a brand name. Currently operating under the corporate mantle of Muzak Holdings, the company built its reputation on creating homogenised, banal arrangements and, for a fee, mainlining these into malls, offices, and other places of business. In partial contrast, Schafer uses the term 'moozak' to refer to 'all kinds of schizophonic musical drool, especially in public places', [p272] regardless of whether it's a toned-down arrangement of a known song or the original recording of a gaudy tune.
'Stock music', on the other hand, refers to a segment of the music/audio-visual industries that produces mostly original music (the non-original being arrangements of public domain works) which is expressly for use as background music in television, film, or radio (or, at least, that was its original or primary use; these days, it has additional applications in the corporate world). 'Production music' is an another label for stock music and is the fancier industry term used in an effort to class-up the stuff, whereas 'canned music' is an attempt to call out the music for its perceived lack of authenticity. While there are differences in the intended aims of stock music and muzak-styled products, I suspect a closer examination would reveal a progressive blurring of the two categories over the decades to the extent that they may even be collapsed together in more recent times. For now, though, we won't worry about such distinctions and use both terms rather loosely.
And what about Satie? His musique d'ameublement, furniture or furnishing music, was intended to be used in exactly the manner for which Schafer despises of modern moozak – as sound filler for empty audio space, audio wallpaper, not to be listened to nor given even passing attention. That it didn't work out that way is also an interesting example of the changing role of music, even incidental music. But stock music likely has other roots. In fact, its genuine ancestry probably lies in film music while the Satie example may just be a fluke, a one-off quirk that is fascinating, but only by coincidence does it bear resemblance to stock music or muzak (even though it is, according to some sources, a precursor for later minimalist and ambient music).
I have another book called Film Music: A Neglected Art (1977). written by a musicologist unfamiliar to me, Roy M. Prendergrast. Now, Roy doesn't get into stock music too much. He is, after all, writing about the 'art' of film music and he would possibly consider stock music as a bit anathema to that (although he's also defending film music from critics who say it's anathema to the art of music). However, he does give an interesting account at the start of his book about music for silent films and how a clerk at a sheet music company invented music cue sheets as a way of aiding the professional musicians who accompanied silent films. These cue sheets listed the timing of each cue in the film, the scene or action taking place, what music to play, how long to play it, and maybe even some performance instructions. This development then led to the creation of music supervisor positions at film production companies as well as to a very pragmatic classification of music for films which is similar to how stock music is organised now. Once film had sound embedded, studios moved to vertical in-house music composition and recording which didn't warrant any classification since everything was done from scratch for each new film. But film music underwent further changes when studios lost much of their vertically integrated structure. including the assembly-line style music production.
Although this loss didn't lead immediately to the creation of stock music as we now know it, the forward progression gets messy and multi-directional again and, for now, I want to work backwards; to get back to Satie and contextualise him more thoroughly, learn about the changing audience reception of incidental music. And Satie's outsider status... The guy was pretty strange at times, but his out-there attitude also led to some pretty out-there music.