The Aggregate: Chill Music is Creating a Generation of Passive Listeners // Road to Renewables in Corporate America
“Aggregate is a unique word. As a noun, it indicates different elements brought together in the same place. As a verb, it seeks to collect and assemble disparate pieces to create a more cohesive whole. This column seeks to do both of those things; breaking down some important stories in print journalism each week and presenting them in more bite-sized pieces.”
When Chill Music Just Isn’t Chill
The New Yorker – Amanda Petrusich, “Against Chill: Apathetic Music To Make Spreadsheets To”
This article comes from the latest edition of The New Yorker. In this piece, Amanda Petrusich examines the modern phenomenon of chill music, which she classifies as a sort of new-age elevator music that is designed to be heard, but not necessarily listened to. Her interesting examination of just this one genre provides insight into the growing tendency toward “passive listening;” music is more accessible than ever, and can be heard in almost all of the spaces we occupy on a daily basis. At a time when audiences have access to more songs and artists than ever before, it is worth reevaluating our relationship with the music we listen to, as well as how and when we choose to listen to it. She begins her article by introducing readers to the listeners’ relationship with the genre known as “chill” (think lo-fi hip-hop streams, etc.) through an experience with her classroom of high school students:
“[My students] found the question silly if not fatuous—the music wasn’t really for liking, in the traditional sense. The music wasn’t for anything. It merely existed to facilitate and sustain a mood, which in turn might enable a task: studying, folding laundry, making spreadsheets, idly browsing the Internet. Spotify presently classifies chill as a genre, and there are an incredible number of playlists devoted to insuring a chill experience.”
Right off the bat, she characterizes one of the key aspects of chill as a genre. Unlike pretty much any other kind of music, it is often a supplement to other experiences rather than an experience in and of itself. There are plenty of people who will tell you that listening to classical music is beneficial while studying, but before it is a study tool, classical music is a standalone art form. Same goes for those who listen to hip-hop or EDM while working out, etc. Chill is inherently different because it is never trying to be anything other than what it is: background noise.
“Background music is hardly a new development, but, previously, these sorts of experiences were mostly relegated to elevators and waiting rooms; now the groundless consumption of music has become omnipresent. In a 2015 press release, Spotify declared itself “obsessed with figuring out how to bring music into every part of your life, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whatever your mood.” The idea of purposeful listening—which is to say, merely listening—is becoming increasingly discordant with the way that music is sold to us.”
By examining the structure of the channels and platforms through which we receive much of our music, Petrusich is able to get to the core of this very modern issue. Companies, like Spotify and Apple, (at least when it comes to their profit margins) see music as a commodity rather than as art. I do not believe the same is entirely true on the listener’s end — music is still revered and appreciated for the art form that it is, but this is a point worth acknowledging nonetheless.
“The chill playlists presuppose that listening to music is a passive experience […] It makes sense that, in 2019, as we grow collectively more uncomfortable with our own quiet, inefficient sentience, we have also come to neglect the more contemplative pursuits, including mindful listening, listening for pleasure, listening to be challenged, and even listening to have a very good time while doing nothing else at all.”
Petrusich uses her closing statements to confront readers with an uncomfortable truth: in a time when our lives are saturated with sensory input every single day, it is more important (and perhaps more difficult) than ever to create time and space devoted to some of the more “contemplative pursuits” she mentions above — whatever that may be for you.
Climate Change: One Type of Risk Wall Street Seemingly Can’t Analyze
The New York Times Magazine – Jesse Baron, “How Big Business Is Hedging Against the Apocalypse”
If you are a returning reader, you might be thinking to yourself right about now: “Hey, this column features a lot of stories about climate change.” To which I would reply: “Yes, it does because climate change is important and impending, and we should all be talking about it even more than we are right now.” I might also add that this column seeks (among other things) to equip readers with one more shred of knowledge in the fraught battle that is being an educated citizen of this rapidly-changing world — which brings us to our next article.
As an homage to Earth Month and in preparation for Earth Day, this story comes from the April 2019 edition of The New York Times Magazine, which is fittingly dubbed “The Climate Issue.” In this lengthy feature, Jesse Baron examines what some of the largest oil and gas companies are doing (or not doing) to gear up for an economy confronted with uncertainty and pressure from investors, customers, and even Mother Nature herself. He begins by unpacking climate change in terms of big business:
“Depending on whom you ask, climate change doesn’t exist, or is an engineering problem, or requires global mobilization, or could be solved by simply nudging the free market into action. Absent a coherent strategy, opportunists can step in and benefit in wily ways from the shifting landscape. […] Faced with this volatile and chaotic situation, the system does what it does best: It searches out profits in the short term.”
Baron points out that in some of these corporate environments that climate change is less of a matter of fact and more a matter of opinion, and is often regarded as the latter when it comes to making decisions. Baron also lists an exhaustive amount of examples where the undeniable symptoms of climate change create problems that are simply ignored by big business as they search for a short-term, band-aid solution — the short-sightedness of these executives is substantiated by their financial success in recent years.
“Rising oceans will submerge coastal financial centers beneath several feet of saltwater, yet commodities markets will pay top dollar for Greenlandic uranium. Taken individually, these assumptions sound dubious. But as a whole, they mirror what’s happening on Wall Street. Each successive year incinerates the temperature figures of the previous one, yet the stock market continues to break records.”
While this outlook is just about as bleak as it sounds, Baron takes care not to despair entirely. Profit margins aside, oil and gas companies are no longer able to ignore renewables entirely, and a shift toward clean energy for more of the population might not be as out of reach as we think. Companies, like Chevron and Exxon, might be taking very subtle steps toward renewables — of course not to upset their profit-oriented investors — but they are steps nonetheless. Oil and gas companies are building solar and wind farms because even if they are not a main source of revenue at this point, the potential for growth (and the impending upheaval of a hydrocarbon-based economy) is not something big businesses are willing to overlook.
“Seeing the whole problem like that, as a result of an economic arrangement rather than an unsparing fate or a flaw in human character, is exceedingly grim but also kind of optimistic. One system can dominate for a while, then another can sneak up and take its place.”
Oil and gas company execs might still be minimizing the severity of climate change in a public-facing arena, but they are taking (subtle) actions that point toward a different reality than the one they are so quick to defend. While our current situation may not be the eager and earnest push for sustainable energy from these industry giants that so many people are hoping for, it is a sort of roundabout way for gas and oil companies to get their foot in the door on renewables. Though it seems like an underwhelming response to the end of the world, one day this roundabout development might be the difference between an economy that has the infrastructure to rely on renewables, and one that doesn’t.
Thanks so much for reading, and we’ll see you again next week.