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Writings

The Muzak Code: Screaming for Silence

A Musical Twist on Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code"

by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio

A soothing digital bell dinged gently as a 10-foot high cylindrical glass elevator opened its doors. The soft glowing orange lights on the cold inside panel alerted Richard Lingdin to his ominous fate: thirty-two stops on the way up to his final destination, Level 65.

The thick, bullet-proof glass doors shut and spontaneously a sensor inside the stainless steel jam triggered a remote computer thousands of miles away, which started an irreversible automated sequence.

The computer code on a terminal in a secret vault fifty feet below the Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland read “Line 401: Commencing mind control sequence.”

Dread hit Lingdin in the gut and a moment later he could almost sense his brain cells dying as the muzak blared from the speakers surrounding him in the glassy tomb.

Like a stewardess wishing a terrified claustrophobe with fear of heights a “happy flight” and offering up a feebly small bag of stale peanuts to “calm the nerves,” the management of the world thought muzak would make the queasy trip to abnormal heights trapped in a glass box hanging from a cable more enjoyable.

Or were their intentions far more sinister?

“It's a soprano sax solo,” Lingdin cringed as a few more cells turned to grey mush, “the worst possible assault to the human psyche.” The sax was a chainsaw shredding notes as they flew past in a desperate attempt to escape its wrath. Iron Butterfly's In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida was played to a chipper, bossa beat complete with xylophones and silken strings.

Without thinking Lingdin forced his hands to his ears in one jerky movement, bumping elbows with another nerdy passenger in a tweed blazer, who had also assumed this position. Judging by his pocket protector and treble clef bow tie he was obviously a musicologist as well. The men's eyes met and a knowing sympathy was exchanged as both wondered who would crack first.

Two other passengers at the back of the glass death chamber seemed unaware of the torture wrought upon them, and the one in the “Where's the Beef” T-shirt was even humming along.

“They're too far gone,” Lingdin thought. “I'll bet they even listen to Backstreet Boys.”

He was reminded of a lecture he gave just last Spring to his Advanced Music Harmony class. The yearly session where he tries to enlighten the few brilliant minds who crave the truth and moreover loses all respect from the rest who cannot fathom the horrible reality: Muzak is mind control.

“The conspiracy starts with the invention of musak,” he began. “Wikipedia.com explains muzak as an innocuous invention by Major General George O. Squier. In 1922 Squire patented a system for the transmission and distribution of background music from phonograph records over electrical lines to workplaces.”

At this he'd already lost half of his audience, but plowed on.

“Squier was intrigued by the Kodak trademark name and was inspired to verge the Greek mus, the sacred feminine muse, and the ak from Kodak to name his invention: Muzak.”

“Squier discovered workers and shoppers were more productive and calm when soft music was played in the background. The system was unquestioned and was installed in shops and office buildings around the globe. Soon enough it was being played in elevators and on phone lines when customers are on hold.”

“It became such a powerful empire, some even call it a cult, that even the style of music played, the sappy cover tunes played by 101 Strings and jazz school drop-outs, became known as the musak genre. The music had even been carefully formatted to best suit the precise mood the business was trying to convey.”

He went on. “The technology became more sophisticated over time and at one point muzak generated more traffic on Bell phone lines than anything else. Now it is distributed via satellite and is referred to as audio architecture.”

Lingdin lowered his voice to a whisper. “What the unsuspecting public was not aware of was the sinister hidden messages embedded in each note of the music. It's brainwashing us, killing our minds,” Lingdin said soberly.

At this several students gasped, some mocked their professor with laughter and one girl in glasses nodded her head in sad agreement, as if she this truth reverberated in her gut.

'Purchase our products at full price' is hidden in the music at the shopping mall, 'Ask for higher interest rates' oozes from the bank elevator speaker and 'Just hand over your money' is crafted into the phone lines for the Internal Revenue Service.”

The room grew quieter at this news. Nobody likes paying tax.

“Some whistle blowers came forward in the 1950's and even challenged musak distributors in court, accusing them of brainwashing. Despite this uproar, President Eisenhower introduced musak to the west wing of the White House. NASA even played muzak on shuttle missions to soothe astronauts during periods of rest.”

Lingdin thought of the astronauts who were forced into believing the moon landing really happened. He decided not to open that can of worms today.

The elevator jerked to a halt and Lingdin stirred from his trance. He was alone in the elevator and the glowing light on the wall panel read “Level 65.”

“How long have I been here,” he asked himself groggily. His head throbbed and his shirt collar was soaked with sweat, but he was happy to have made it alive.

The glass doors opened slowly and Lingdin timed the careful removal of his hands from his ears to stop the doors closing in one swift movement. He escaped the vertically moving box of death and only caught a few bars of “Moon River” played by kazoo and timpani ensemble before the doors closed again.

Lingdin smoothed his shirt with his hands and made his way to his hotel room, deciding to take the sixty-five flights of stairs on the way down.

 

Rhiannon Nachbaur operates Fiddleheads Violin Studio in Kamloops, BC, Canada.  She recently enjoyed both book and film versions of Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code," from which she found inspiration to share her disdain for musak. 

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