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 50 Caroline Polachek “The thing that eats at me a little bit is how subjective my music is.... You can’t get away from ‘Caroline Polachek.’” Music Issue 50 Odd Jobs Molly Lewis, professional whistler. Music Issue 50 Behind the Scenes Film composer Emile Mosseri on the art of setting music to film. Music Issue 49 Tove Lo The pop star reflects on the big feelings behind her biggest hits. Music Issue 49 Róisín Murphy Five questions for an art-pop icon. Music Issue 46 Hun Choi DJ Hunee outlines his dance floor philosophy.