Spending a full day on airplanes and in airports will really exhaust one of ersatz environments: canned air, canned music, canned speeches (one of my favorite flight attendantisms is the shockingly inefficient exhortation to turn "all electronic devices to the off position"). When I hear a truly insipid example of smooth jazz like I did in the Miami airport--and not just standard issue mind-numbing, here, we're talking groundbreaking levels of inane repetition and poor taste--I often wonder about the stiff who made that decision, who looked at a catalog (¿do such things exist?) of muzak options and requested that which would provide a vibe most "Weather-channelesque." Really, what is being accomplished?
It hit me on the flight from Miami to Chicago, where a playlist of three or so tracks greeted us to the airplane and was again switched on during that lovely interval when everyone is standing in the aisle waiting to deplane (I am always, always, in one of the five back rows. Has anyone out there ever been seated in the front of coach?). So, several times in a perilously short period, I endured James Taylor's "Shower the People." This track exhibits that impossibly balanced tempo which, while actually remaining consistent, sounds like it's slowing down more and more every second. And I realized: this is aural riot prevention. Because if you really pay attention, everything about sitting on one of those planes ought to invoke a state of panic. So they attempt to mollify you with music that actually makes the individual cells of your body a little sleepy. I'm surprised third-world dictators haven't yet seized on James Taylor as a weapon for pacifying the revolutionary hordes.
Our culture is misleading, isn't it? We have so many situations in which music is superficially present but nothing is going on that has anything to do with music. The issue is not with Kenny G himself, here, but more the corporations, the radio stations, the dentists' offices, who use his recordings. Their motives appear to bear no relation to the original impulses of music-making, the forces within human experience that cause people, every day, to want to make something with organized sound.
There are large corners of pop music that are nothing but advertising. Or, in this case, mind control. Sometimes, I'd argue, base motivations are implicit in the music itself, or at least in the lyrics; most of the time the issue is more with the modes of its deployment. Here, the use of pop music to make unpleasant environments--supposedly--more palatable. I never dismiss something as "not music" because it doesn't fit my tastes, but I do think it's possible that even something of great quality, through the way it is conveyed, can in fact cease to be music. (Fragments of Petrushka, for example, piped into a Banff Centre restroom.)
Our society has begun to recognize that constant intake of packaged food is unhealthy, that the stuff straight from the ground has a lot of complex content that is lost when we preserve it, ship it far away, add chemicals to it, and consume it in contexts where its presence makes no sense.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues