Muzak …

It was Marc Laidlaw who in 1986 published a horror story entitled “Muzak for Torso Murders” in Dennis Etchison’s landmark anthology, “Cutting Edge”. That title stuck with me all throughout the years and it instantly resurfaces whenever I’m confronted with music that hurts my ears.

“Muzak”, as you all probably know, is basically a synonym for “background music”, “elevator music”, or worse. The way I understand the term, it describes that endless stream of noise pollution we are confronted with everyday in supermarkets, shopping malls, elevators, holiday resorts and God knows where else. If one wanted to be a cynic, one could also define it to be basically any music that is streamed to living rooms and offices across the globe via today’s radio stations, but we don’t want to be cynical today. Not at all.

As I alluded to in my last entry here posted on July 29th, I had the good fortune of being able to go on prolonged holidays. Part of those holidays I spent at a wonderful luxury hotel on Gran Canaria (off the Moroccan coast), enjoying the benefits of a massively price-reduced super last minute offer which took me there pretty much at a moment’s notice. As those last-minute deals work, I basically had to take the plunge in the blink of an eye, getting off my packed bags and virtually running to the exit to catch the flight.

And a great plunge it was. As fate had apparently decreed, I ended up far enough away from the insanity that calls itself “Playa del Ingles”, a flypaper beach populated with everything I have always hated about tourism, both alive and dead. Luck would have it that I ended up in a wonderful 5-star hotel (officially 4+) about 2 miles away from said tourism hell, overlooking a golf course and the stunning dune landscape of “Maspalomas”, with its characteristic light tower at its southern-most point.

The hotel itself was pure luxury, with three-course evening meals that actually deserved that name, a wonderful breakfast buffet that offered everything from fresh bananas grown on site to a wide variety of excellent local pastries. Service was faultless, the rooms were huge and pleasantly furnished, there was a wellness area with Thalasso pool and a number of different sauna environments, and – most importantly – most of the guests there were Spanish and not, as I had feared, northern European tourists.

In short, a last-minute dream package.


Well, if it hadn’t been for that muszak for torso murders that without fail appeared out of nowhere for dinner.

People who have spent some time with me know that I not only have a very high frustration tolerance but also the ability to force myself to see the good in a lot of music I don’t like, simply because I value musical ability and practically any attempt at creating music with either limited or advanced skills. But there are limits.

So, every single evening, one of those play-all-you-can’t entertainer keyboards appeared by the pool side (dinner was outside for everyone to enjoy the unwavering warm evening breeze and the sunset), hooked up to a portable amp of considerable size. The lavishly-decorated tables were set up in a spacious area, albeit far too close to the aforementioned entertainment contraption.

As soon as the first scent of freshly grilled salmon would drift across the floral grounds of the hotel, José (no idea what he was called, so we’ll call him José) would shamble over to his keyboard, flip the power switch and amidst the buzzing sound of electricity coursing through the wiring, would launch into a horrible rendition of played-to-death standards. For several hours (minus a 20-minute break around 22.00).

Mind you, good José did not play this music for your average last-minute banana bomber tourist but for affluent people who, in difference to me, had invested more than 2000 Euro into their stay there, having selected the hotel because of its wellness and relaxation aspect.

And there it was. “The Girl from Ipanema”, “Lady in Red” (Chris De Burgh is on place one of my private hit-list), “Another Day in Paradise (one of those eek Phil Collins tunes)”, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, and so on and so forth. You know how it goes: Once a string of muzak like that is unleashed, there just doesn’t seem to be any end to it. You get the whole programme, and nothing but the programme. You can see the tunes coming before you hear the first note and I learned to identify the upcoming songs by the way José would ruffle the music sheets just seconds before he took a deep breath to belt out the next one.

Good grief. If Dante had intended to create a musical poem, it might well have sounded like the musical entertainment at the hotel.

Relief suddenly seemed to approach from the sidelines as Miguel (yeah, I don’t know his name either) took over three nights a week. Miguel appeared more refined, limiting himself to subdued and somewhat mildly funky fusion numbers that showed quite a bit of skill. But, alas, relief it wasn’t as Miguel had convinced the management that his quality music had to be blasted at the upscale clientele at twice the volume. If you were unfortunate to have to sit too close to Miguel, you got your ears blown out, unable to converse with anyone or anything, let alone gather coherent thoughts. On second thought, I don’t think Dante was ever mean enough to even think about creating a version of hell like that.

What boggles the mind is that the management, that had honed every other quality aspect to perfection, would allow such disturbance at the hotel and obviously thought that entertainment like that was called for at a far from cheap wellness resort of repute, a refuge for stressed managers, politicians, aging playboys, golfers and tired bloggers.

It is also beyond me why anyone on this planet might like this kind of music. Given, at a beer hall after a crate of Tuborg one might consider this kind of stuff to be uplifting (at least enough to get off the ground and back onto the bench for another heavy bout of drinking) or the crowd at the aforementioned flypaper beach might have loved this musical massacre to death, but a person with any kind of musical sensitivy just had to cringe at the schmalzy and banal arrangements pouring from the speakers.

So, my demand to companies selecting hotels for their 4+ and 5-star categories is to introduce some kind of icon in their catalogues, warning visitors about potentially ruinous musical entertainment disturbing the peace at a resort.

I think a musical note with an overlayed skull and crossbones should do the trick. Hell, maybe I should patent that idea.

P.S.: The “Dunas Vital Suites” hotel on Gran Canaria does come highly recommended by me and aside from dinner time, I spent perhaps the most relaxing two weeks of the past decade there.

P.S.S.: I don’t have a category for this, so it was filed under “Collecting” (add: bad musical experiences).

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. heheheh.

    as a rule, people who enjoy “different sauna environments”, also don’t give a damn about music as long as it’s popular and costs money.

    “Honey, I thought that after a visit to the sauna landscape, we could have an uplifting evening and go see a musical. I see ‘Cats’ is playing at the Casino.”


  2. Actually, the casino around the corner had some loud flamenco evenings of song and dance (to get people to come and spend their money there). 😉

    I wonder if a hotel catering to more sublime musical tastes might be a success. Somehow I think either they would go bankrupt after a shorter while or have a clientele that would otherwise prove detrimental to the atmosphere.

    Catch-22, really.


  3. Hi Volkher,

    Great blog! I too am a maniac music fan with storage “challenges”, so I’m thrilled to have found your site!

    Just thought I’d also mention that Muzak is actually a company which is indeed responsible for most of the insipid “elevator music” you’ve discussed here and nowadays they also provide custom playlists of popular music for retail companies, restaurants, etc. There was a facinating article all about the history and the present of the Muzak company in a recent New Yorker magazine. Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your posts… cheers!


  4. Nice blog, enjoyable reading. I am combing through the web trying to find anyone who is grouping all the motherboard musicians (solo computer artists) in one place. I think its a huge trend but there are few place to find it, i.e. myspace….etc, I am just wondering if you happen to any site focused on it? Thanks Adam


  5. Adam,

    sorry, I have absolutely no link or info to offer. But if you do find something yourself that’s worthwhile, could you let us know?



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