In the 1930s and 1940s, the executives behind Muzak — the bland background noise piped into hotel lobbies, malls, and elevators — adopted a slogan touting their social engineering capabilities: “Muzak While You Work for Increased Efficiency.” A carefully calibrated playlist with increasing tempo promised to make factory workers more productive, while slower, easy-listening tunes claimed to encourage shoppers to take their time.
“I found all that kind of sinister,” jokes Yowei Shaw. A freelance public radio reporter and producer by training, Shaw has been grappling with questions of engaging listeners in public spaces as part of her residency with the Philadelphia-based Asian Arts Initiative’s Social Practice Lab. Muzak’s social engineering history, she says, gave her an idea: “What if we could make our own kind of elevator music, but do it with pro-social intentions, to promote community?”
And so her project, Really Good Elevator Music, was born. Shaw asked six local musicians from Philly’s Chinatown North/Callowhill neighborhood to produce tracks that would help “foster community” in the area. The result is the 13 track album of “really good elevator music,” which is playing in the elevators of the nearby, mixed-use Wolf Building for the month of March.