Reflections on Sonic Environments

Vincent Meelberg and Marcel Cobussen

The Shop

Recently the founding father of a Dutch-based, international food company died. In order to commemorate him, no Muzak was played in the branch stores of this company for one day. I remember quite well that I did my shopping in one of these branch-stores on the day he died. I didn’t notice that there was no music – I read it afterwards in a daily …

Did I buy less that day? Did I spend less time in that supermarket? Did I buy different products? I am not sure. I just got through my shopping list.

Nevertheless, sounds or audio architecture seem to have a great influence on our purchasing behavior. Muzak or background music induces a feeling of relaxation which ameliorates the shopping experience, or, slightly more disquieting, forms an atmospheric control by a generalized surround sound culture. Sound thus becomes an essential part of a supermarket’s infrastructure. The very fact that shopping malls and expensive shops are playing the (mostly popular) music from my twenties, proves that they consider me a potential customer, a buyer, a spender. Muzak, Mantovani, and Sinatra are gradually replaced by Elton John, Phil Collins, and ABBA. Loud Hip-Hop and other dance music from nearby clothing stores signify at the same moment that the contemporary youth is also quite prosperous. As for me, these sounds produce the same effect as the Mosquito on the young: you’re unwanted! The tempo and volume of the music played in those stores targeting teenagers mainly works stupefying: don’t ponder, don’t hesitate, don’t spend too much time here. Instead: consume, satisfy your immediate needs, give way to your impulses! (LaBelle 2010: 178)

In addition to attracting clients through background music, sonic branding aims “to catalyze the motivation to consume, creating a sonically triggered tipping point.” Sonic branding entails an intervention into the affective sensorium’s mnemonic system, modulating emotions by non-verbal means. (Goodman 2010: 145–8) Sonic micropolitics: bodies are affected by rhythms, frequencies, and intensities before their intensity is transduced by regimes of signification. (Goodman 2010: 132)


                                                                                                                              The Study

                                                        The Shop

            Sirens                                                                                                                                                                  The Gym


                    The Bedroom


                             The Ear and/versus the Eye

                Sound Design    



                                                    Footsteps                                                                                                                                      Rattle and Hum

                                                                       Your Space