If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If elevator music stops playing and nobody notices, does it matter if it was ever playing at all? Your answer to the latter may depend on your propensity for anxiety: It’s often said that music was first piped into elevators to calm the nerves of early passengers frightened about plummeting to their deaths. Others say it was simply a way to entertain them. Certainly, this explains the enduring existence of background music in the public sphere. French composer Erik Satie is often credited with having invented the concept: Between 1917 and 1923, he wrote five pieces of what he called “furniture music, ” designed to “be a part of the surrounding noises”—heard, but not listened to. What is now referred to as “muzak, ” after the company that spent so much of This story is from Kinfolk Issue Thirty-One Buy Now Related Stories Music Issue 44 Sigrid Scandipop's fresh face on stagecraft and The Sims. Music Issue 43 Brendan Yates The Turnstile frontman on hardcore's sweet side. Music Issue 43 Cat Power Musician Chan Marshall opens the door to a different dimension. Music Issue 42 Dev Hynes The boundless potential of being a master of none. Music Issue 41 Jon Batiste The band leader on his genre-busting year. Music Issue 36 Roderick Cox In Berlin, Stephanie d’Arc Taylor meets the man who makes music move—orchestra conductor Roderick Cox.