The Environment Effect

“What surrounds these [advertisement] posters? Oil paintings were surrounded by gold frames which symbolized the wealth of the owner, within the picture and around it. What surrounds the publicity image is us as we are. Our cities are papered with pictures of what we might buy, papered with dreams that invite us to enter them. But they exclude us as we now are”.

-John Berger, Ways of Seeing (ep. 4)

What surrounds the music played at a grocery store? It is us as we are. Does the music invite us to enter the dreams of what we might buy? One customer could say so, bobbing to the music as she imagines eating the ice cream in her shopping cart.

Does it exclude us as we now are? In some ways it does. Transitioning from the parking lot to the grocery store is an earful. The lot is based on the sounds of, amongst other things, automobiles, construction, and passersby. It is the sound of contingency; that is to say, what we now are.

Contingency fades as the sliding doors cue the muzak of the grocery store. Being muzak, sounds are harnessed and fitted for the store experience. The contingency found outside is out of the question. If we are to enter the dreams of what we might buy, we must be led and invited.

Let us go back to the first question. Is what surrounds the music played in the store really “us as we are”? With the aforementioned shift from lot to store we do not remain as we are but transition into someone else. We become the customer of that store. And by virtue of this shift we receive the music differently: as a customer. That is why, in the store, music can invite us to enter the dreams of what we might buy.

The environment works its influence upon us before the music does. There is, then, no such thing as just a ‘listener’. Instead, we have a listener in the grocery store, listener in the concert, listener in the home, listener in the street, etc. The question of how does music affect an environment is flipped.

It is not how music affects one’s experience at a book store but how a book store affects one’s experience of music.


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