University of Texas at Austin
Curated by MacKenzie Stevens

Easy listening is a category of popular music comprising songs across genres that have had their once sharp and novel edges smoothed and rounded off by the friction of wide circulation and popularity. The classification of easy listening suggests that this high level of circulation and presence produces conditions that make songs acceptable and more readily absorbed by a wide listening audience. These are songs that have performed well commercially as a result of some combination of record industry promotion via social and financial capital and resonance that the content has with the audiences who invest in the music and are touched by it. These songs go on to operate as ambient backing tracks to our most mundane activities, droning in grocery stores, malls, and hardware stores across the globe.

But there are also other materials that operate at this ambient register – the materials that constitute infrastructures that shape the spaces and roles we inhabit in institutions. Consider the arrangement of chairs in a lecture hall or the stage placement for a world tour concert. Consider the circular design of a bandstand that invites an audience to surround the performance or the circularity of the chair arrangement of a support group meeting. These arrangements reflect decisions that are informed by subjective experiences of facilitators, psychologists, designers, architects, and engineers – decisions which materialize as fixed and accepted structures that determine the shape and circulation of audiences and groups. These infrastructures determine where audiences go and don’t go; how and why they listen; what they listen to and what they don’t listen to.

When we speak of sound, we are speaking of touch. So when we speak of listening, we are also speaking of being touched and of feeling. A basic physical characteristic of sound is that it behaves differently depending on the material body through which it is traveling. Sound registers in ways that are unique to the materials that it touches. While an audience is commonly understood as a passive body that absorbs and receives, it is also a material and a site in which sounds, signals, and pressure are circulated and altered. An audience can amplify or silence and much of its ability to do so is a function of its shape and the infrastructures that support it.


Using Format