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  Muzak is a proprietary name, the property of the Muzak Corporation of America. But it is one of those brand names which has passed into popular use throughout the world. It is music (usually recorded) played as a background in factories, shops, restaurants, waiting areas, lifts, stairwells, down telephones while you wait to be connected—even, we are told, in spacecraft and (through loudspeakers in parking meters) in the streets of some towns and cities.

In its wider sense, muzak has existed for millennia. Ancient Greek vase paintings show musicians performing while other people eat or talk; medieval European barons, and the aristocrats of Mogul India and Edo Japan, hired minstrels for a similar purpose. Haydn, Mozart and a thousand lesser composers wrote serenades, divertissements and other pieces to soothe their employers\' ears. Early this century, the composer Erik Satie devised ‘furniture music’ to be played in the foyer during an art exhibition. (It was a failure as furniture, though successful as music: visitors stopped to listen, and forgot the exhibition.) The late 20th-century composer-performer Brian Eno has developed ‘ambient music’, a kind of discreet, minimalist murmur designed to produce feelings of calm and well-being—quite different from the tension and rage engendered by canned music of more assertive kinds. KMcL



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