Elevator music – the universally maligned, yet unobtrusive, saccharine sounds piped into elevators, supermarkets, and hotel lobbies – has a long history of being used to manipulate human behavior in public space. Studies have shown that elevator music can reduce stress, combat fatigue, create a feeling of well-being, and even enhance sales. For decades, background music companies have churned out specific types of Muzak to promote certain behaviors in public space, for the purposes of companies and retail stores. For instance, department stores have often played deliberately slower-tempo background music so that customers lingered longer in aisles and bought more stuff. And workplaces have used background music to increase worker productivity and morale, by looping 15-minute blocks of music that steadily increase in tempo and complexity.
Does anyone else find this a bit sinister? Well, here’s an idea.
What if we made background music that promotes community? Do it in the same utilitarian way that background music companies have approached making Muzak all these years?
Really Good Elevator Music is an experiment that explores the potential of sound to stimulate social interaction and community building in the strikingly diverse Philadelphia neighborhood of Chinatown North/Callowhil, Philadelphia (8th to Broad, Vine to Spring Garden).
To test the experiment out, I invited six artists with a connection to this community to create tracks for a Really Good Elevator Music playlist – which will be played on loop in elevators of The Wolf Building and other public/private spaces in the neighborhood. Really Good Elevator Music hopes to activate these spaces by filling them with a very different kind of Muzak, the kind that challenges participants to rethink their relationship with these spaces, the neighborhood, and each other.
I produced this project as part of Asian Arts Initiative’s 2012-2013 year of Social Practice Lab, which invited seven artists in residence to develop and implement public art projects and initiatives that engage with and enliven the neighborhood of Chinatown and Chinatown North.