Disruptive Muzak

Sam Kidel, 2016

How do you turn an album of prank calls into artistic social commentary? I thought it a dubious proposition, before listening to Disruptive Muzak, by Sam Kidel. It was boomkat's pick for album-of-the-year (and if I'd heard it in time, it would have made my list, as well). If you to start on side two, you'd find an exquisitely crafted ambient work. It's all hovering, subtle tones, pivoting unexpectedly, punctuated with clipped, intermittent percussion. It's unstable nature imbues a narrative thrust, without any need to build and crescendo.

On side one, you'll hear the same ambient piece—but this time, collaged with voices of the call-center employees it was played to. Kidel would dial a help line to play this music down the wire, without saying anything. Those abrupt swings in tone are now recast as conversation between the machine music and employee.

Since the call-center workers are unaware of being recorded, Disruptive Muzak reprises the voyeuristic pleasures of Scanner's first albums. The unwitting listeners are by turns, non-plussed, weary or even friendly and persistent. In other words, entirely human—except the few times Kidel reaches an automated menu that tries to make the pre-recorded music choose decipherably from a multiple-choice menu. At that point the album feels darkly futuristic, as two machines carry on a conversation without us.