Conductor, pianist and this year's Reith lecturer Daniel Barenboim has lashed out against muzak. He argues that hearing music over which you have no control is "absolutely offensive" and that for music to have any value, "active listening is absolutely essential". It's an ethical thing, he harrumphs.
Leaving aside the tedious pedantry that muzak is a very specific, trademarked commodity, if all instances when we listen to music are to be purely voluntary, most of us will never listen to music at all. To argue otherwise is like suggesting children will become voracious readers even if you don't teach them to read, don't provide them with books and don't tell them where the library is. Music can catch people unawares: Elvira Madigan sold Mozart in the 1960s; a few years later, a strange pairing of Helena Bonham Carter and Paul Gascoigne did the same for Puccini. Apocryphally, when Walt Disney used the Pastoral Symphony in Fantasia, he announced "This'll make Beethoven!"
Ah, but that's a different kind of passive listening isn't? Barenboim (rightly) objects to muzak if you're forced to buy your sun-dried tomatoes to a backdrop of Boyzone's greatest hits played on panpipes and a Linn drum. But if Tesco played his own recordings of Bach and Wagner, would he be so sniffy? Maybe he shouldn't try to make an ethical argument when, deep down, it's really a matter of aesthetics.
P.S. This week, I've been getting equally heated at the Culture Wars site about half-arsed attempts to co-opt Orwell and at Tangents about recorder solos; and hoping that this attempt to sell birth control pills to Thai students is a late April fool stunt.