Sunday, February 08, 2009

You're on hold

I've just read a short pamphlet 'Muzak to my ears: Canned Music and Class Struggle: Public Space and Muzak as Policing'. I will write a review of this at some point, but one thing that struck me was the reflection on the music used when you phone a bank or other institution while you are kept on hold: 'music is now used as environmental material to enhance sales techniques and marketing, usually to soothe the nerves and irritation of impatient phone callers but, as Ballard points out, also to jangle the nerves and exacerbate the irritation of dissatisfied service customers, probably to make them stop holding on'. It includes a great quote on this from JG Ballard (I think sourced from the book Elevator Music):

"...the subject is fascinating - all part of mood-control. For me the intentions of background music are openly political, and an example of how political power is constantly shifting from the ballot box into areas where the voter has nowhere to mark his ballot paper. The most important political choices in the future will probably never be consciously exercised. I'm intrigued by the way some background music is surprisingly aggressive, especially that played on consumer complaint phone lines and banks, airlines and phone companies themselves, with strident, non-rhythmic and arms-length sequences that are definitely not user-friendly."

In the course of my own personal credit crunch I have spent a fair amount of time waiting for calls to be answered, and yes the music remains more than irritating - but at least suggests that you are waiting in a queue with some prospect of speaking to a human being, even more frustrating is going round and round in circles through endless menus of options (press 1 if you would like to get further in debt, press 2 if your house is going to be repossessed etc.) - none of which include the possibility of any kind of conversation.

Still if you think listening to Music on Hold is bad, spare a thought for the Call Centre workers on the other line - wearing headphones all day and therefore susceptible to serious damage to their hearing from Acoustic Shock caused by 'a sudden, unexpected noise, often delivered at a very intense frequency'.

'Muzak to My Ears' is available as a pamphtelt from Past Tense publications, c/o 56a Infoshop, 56 Crampton Street, LondonSE17 3A (£1.50 including post and packing, cheques made payable to A. Hodson. Most of the text is available online here.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Worst hanging on the telephone muzak I've ever heard is a repeated loop of a phrase from Bach's Brandenburg Variations - the whole point of which is that the music varies, but of course because this is one loop it doesn't.