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An Exploration Of Elevator Music At The Blanton

Graham Reynolds performing in SoundSpace: BioSounds at the Blanton Museum of Art

SoundSpace, the ongoing hybrid art series produced by Steve Parker at UT’s Blanton Museum of Art, returns this weekend with Not Bad Muzak, a new installment inspired by elevator music and its close cousin, telephone on-hold music.

“It aligns with a current exhibition by Ed Ruscha at the museum,” Parker says. “[Ruscha] uses text a lot in his work, and he often paints landscapes in the back. The text is the subject but the landscape in the back he refers to as ‘elevator music."

Ruscha’s work inspired Parker to delve into the world of Muzak.

“Elevator music was originally developed to manipulate behavior,” Parker says. “To soothe nerves in the elevator, to increase worker productivity in the factory, and also to get people to buy more things at the shopping malls. And we’re just looking at the different ways in which sound and music is used to manipulate human behavior.”

To that end, Parker has partnered with radio producer Yowei Shaw to create what they call Really Good Elevator Music.  

“We’ve commissioned a few different artists to create new elevator music for the Blanton’s elevator,” Parker says. “As you are travelling up and down on the Blanton’s elevator, you’ll experience new elevator music [that] at time has verbal prompts. I’m most looking forward to audience reactions … and what this new elevator music gets people to do, and what sort of interactions are facilitated as a result.”

Among the other artists taking part in SoundSpace: Not Bad Muzak is choreographer Jennifer Sherburn, who is devising a new piece inspired by her complicated reaction to on-hold music.

“When we started talking about elevator music or call center hold music, I realized that there’s two versions of myself when I’m on hold. One is, I quickly get mad and want to rebel and break things," she says. "And the other is, I just allow myself to get tugged away to a dream state, much like [when] you plunge into a pool of water and everything just kind of changes. So I’m going to play with both of those things with movement.”

Sherburn’s piece will be set to a new piece of music created by her brother Justin Sherburn, with whom she frequently collaborates.

“He’s stoked about elevator music,” Jennifer says. “[And] what’s cool is that if he goes into the direction I’m thinking, it’s something he doesn’t normally make, period. So it’ll be pretty refreshing for the both of us.”

"SoundSpace: Not Bad Muzak" is Sunday, January 26 at 2:00 pm at the B;lanton Museum of Art.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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