Erik Satie – the ‘progenitor’ of muzak or the precursor of ‘pipedown’ movement? On the concept of musique d’ameublement

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Sylwia Makomaska


Erik Satie (1866–1925) was a colourful and intriguing artist in the world of Parisian avant-garde. In the turbulent times of the early 20th century he created the concept of musique d’ameublement (‘furniture music’) – a vision of music that did not require attentive listening because it was supposed to play an extravagant role (as it was perceived in that period) of an acoustic background accompanying all everyday events. A change in recording and sound reproduction techniques in the 20th century that led to the ubiquity of music in the contemporary world seems to confirm that Satie’s ‘furniture music’ can be treated as a prophetic idea. However, the problem of how the concept of musique d’ameublement should be interpreted still remains ambiguous. The main aim of the present paper is to discuss the two contrary ways of the interpretation of ‘furniture music’. The first approach assumes that Satie can be treated as ‘the progenitor’ of muzak – a musical genre initially associated with the activities of Muzak company and then gradually identified with any background music provided on a mass scale to the public space. The second approach is an attempt to interpret the concept of musique d’ameublement in a completely different way – as an expression of opposition to an increasingly mechanized Western world dominated by progress and technology, where the role of music boils down only to the function of the acoustic background. Therefore, Satie becomes one of the precursors of the actions taken by the opponents of muzak (e. g. pipedown movements), who seek to eliminate the imposed background music from the public space. The reconstruction of musique d’ameublement (basing, inter alia, on selected source materials) is treated as a starting point for the discussion that leads to the acoustic ecology perspective.


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Sylwia Makomaska, Institute of Musicology, Faculty of History, University of Warsaw

assistant professor at the Institute of Musicology (University of Warsaw).She graduated in musicology at the Faculty of History (2002) and Political Science (specialty:journalism) from Collegium Civitas (2003). In 2008 she received her PhD from Warsaw Universityfor the dissertation on absolute pitch entitled Występowanie różnych rodzajów słuchu absolutnegow środowisku młodzieży polskich szkół muzycznych [The prevalence of various kinds ofabsolute pitch among students of Polish music schools] – tutor: Professor Andrzej Rakowski. In2010 she was an academic visitor in the Centre for International Research on Creativity Learning inEducation (CIRCLE) at Roehampton University in London (tutor: Professor David J. Hargreaves).Among her scholarly interests are psychoacoustics, cognitive and social psychology of music (particularly the phenomenon of absolute pitch and the role of music in social communication). She hasparticipated in research projects realised in cooperation with Professor Ken’ichi Miyazaki from NiigataUniversity (Japan) and with the Department of Music Acoustics of the Fryderyk Chopin Universityof Music in Warsaw. She has published many articles on the phenomenon of absolute pitch andthe problem of background music. Since 2017 she has been involved in the research project entitled‘“Acoustic wallpaper” in the public space – from musique d’ameublement to audiomarketing’, supportedby Research Grant No. 2016/23/D/HS2/01773 from the National Science Centre (Poland).


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