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28/06/2007 - par Mark Tungate

You may know the word « muzak ». It's a form of background music that is often referred to, disparagingly, as elevator music. Traditionally, it consists of instrumental versions of pop songs, stripped of all emotion and so banal as to be undetectable. Imagine The Beatles played on a xylophone. From the 1950s until the 1990s, muzak was the soundtrack of supermarkets and hotel lobbies.

And then it went away. Muzak as we knew it ceased to exist. There's a simple explanation for this : the Hôtel Costes. Or rather, the numerous Hôtel Costes compilations, all featuring a breed of silky electronic « lounge » music, which inspired hundreds of copycat recordings. The early Costes discs were rather suave - but their imitations have become paler and paler, until now the average lounge compilation sounds like electronic sludge. The tracks have names like « Night Flight, by Nu-York Lo-Fi featuring Ashton ­Summersby ». I have no idea where all these people come from, because I only ever hear them once. As I was sitting in a restaurant in a posh Athens hotel the other day, with another electro blend oozing over the sound system, I realised that lounge had become the new muzak. No wonder rock bands are back.

Interestingly, the word muzak derived from a real company, created in 1934, that specialised in providing corporate music. Even more interestingly, it still exists. You can visit its website at muzak.com. Needless to say, there's plenty of electronica to listen to.

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