Month: March 2014

#musicatwork – Part 2: Consumption Music

The first part of this post collated music that soundtracked work activities. I differentiated ‘work songs’ from ‘workplace background music’. The lines drawn between these categories are a bit blurry in traditional oral cultures but, since the ‘workplace’ as such is strongly associated with industrial capitalism, they still (ahem) work. Once recorded music comes along, and we move more into white collar work, things start to get a bit messier. Though there might remain strong differences between company and worker, the dividing line between production and consumption definitely starts to fade. The company song and the corporate anthem are songs about working environments, for instance, but aren’t exactly a worker’s reflection on that work. Indeed, they seem to encourage workers to consume the idea of the company and the idea of work.

The production/consumption division also gets muddied from the other side as well, with music being an important gelling agent in retail and hospitality spaces, or circulating in intra-industry circles to strengthen a brand, for instance. The below brings together ways in which music is put to work to aid the process of buying and selling, alongside a quick survey of popular ‘songs about work’ – that is songs that comment on the nature of work more critically while themselves being offered up for consumption – or, in a pleasing return to the times of the Light Programme, played on the radio in the office background.



#musicatwork – Part 1: Production Music

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article on the most efficient music to listen to while working, which reminded me of Anneli Haake‘s research. I started a spontaneous journey through the hyperlinked byways of the internet, looking for ways in which music and work have come together, and using the #musicatwork hashtag on Twitter to catalogue it (I call it ‘research’). It’s peripheral to my doctoral interests really, but the purpose was to help me think through instances in which music might have been more functionalised (other than sync or brand partnerships, where music is literally put to work) – to try and get away from the idea of music purely as entertainment, escape, or emotional release. I gathered a far richer collection than I expected and really underscored music’s seeming capacity for getting deep beneath the skin and regulating affective flows.

I’ve collated these across two posts, divided along the lines of production and consumption. Part 2 here.



Lyotard on Libidinal Regulation Through Musical Grids

From the Driftworks essay ‘Several Silences’ (1972).


What is called music is a device:

1- that invests libido mainly in the sound region: a commutator of libidinal energy into audible energy and vice versa; which implies to start with that quantities of energy are constantly used to circumscribe this region, on the body particularly (e.g., to disconnect the phonatory and auditory cavities from the motor organs: dancing);

2- that in classical and baroque periods in the West, has appended musical prostheses, instruments, to this partial body; an adjunction which required new investments onto certain parts of the body: the hands, the fingers of the pianist or the flutist, but also the arm-shoulder-chin complex of the violinist, the torso of the percussionist, the knees of the cellist and harpist;

3- that produces only discontinuous sounds whose pitches can be located to the nearest half-tone in a fixed division of soundspace;

4- that favors the key of C and treats five out of twelve halftones as subordinate, “transitional” notes;

5- that, in the name of tonality, tolerates only that distribution of intervals between pitches given by the “Pythagorean” mode;

6- that privileges, in the name of chords, aggregates of three degrees separated respectively by intervals of a third;

7- that in the key of C, gives preeminence to major chords called perfect, placed on the first, fourth, and fifth degrees;

8- etc., I hand this matter over to those more knowledgeable than myself, it isn’t difficult .

The purpose of this list is to show what a device is, i.e. a superimposition of grids that filter flows of energy, in this case, sound. These grids are not things (there are no things): they are libidinal investments that block the entrance and exit of certain sound-noises, and that maintain and transmit themselves. A major portion of the libidinal potential is used in these policed-policing functions.