It stopped me in my tracks. At first I didn’t know why, but then I realised, the music in the elevator I just came out was an instrumental version of ‘Don’t look back in Anger‘, complete with a sweet, nondescript string section. It stopped me in my tracks for two unrelated reasons. First, the sudden understanding that your age can be measured by the musical wallpaper around you. When I was young I heard Elvis Presley and The Beatles everywhere, now bands like Oasis. I must have grown 30 years older in the meantime. Second, the overall stupidity of Elevator music, at least in its current format. How much time do we spend in the average elevator? 20 seconds, 30, a minute at most, meaning that every time we use the elevator we hear a fraction of a song. Music for Airports makes sense, many people, including me, stroll around airports for hours. Music in Shopping Malls even makes sense, if only they managed the synchronisation problem, so that you don’t go from Salsa to Rock to soothing Jazz in the space of a couple of minutes as you go from one shop to the other.

Still, there seem to be rules for elevator music, at least according to the (elevator) industry. Elevator music should have a low intrusion level, be catered to the occasion or type of place (which interestingly means that Bob Marley is only allowed at tropical resorts) and be soothing, preferably instrumental. It should never be loud, heavy, offensive (to any of the various audiences that can be offended) or too contemporary. The Classics rule in the world of elevators.

That’s all fine, and I guess that more than 20 years after the fact an instrumental version of ‘Don’t look back in Anger’ is non-obtrusive, soothing and hardly offensive, but…I think there is a different and better solution for elevator music, one focusing more on the limited time people spend in an elevator. Actually, multiple solutions are possible. The first one is, of course, to only play ultra-short pieces in an elevator, and maybe even ensure that every piece starts and finishes between floors. The second, more practical solution is to focus on repetition, Erik Satie’s Vexations is very suitable, it is essentially an (almost) endless repetition of the same bars of music.

A third option is to create a soundscape, something that is essentially a musical carpet. No songs, just a blanket of soothing sounds. The fourth most expensive solution is to actually have a small combo playing live music in the elevator, as was already demonstrated in a hilarious Flight of the Conchords scene. See, it’s not too difficult, even elevator music can be made far more interesting than just playing an instrumental version of a classic song.