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Tom Middleton; Elevating Elevator Music (interview)


“Soundscaping describes a holistic and deeply researched approach to installation and appropriate scheduling of bespoke sound design and music composition to augment, enhance and embellish the consumer/guest emotional and sensory Hotel experience in line with the brand's values.”

Almost two decades after he established himself as one of dance culture’s most experimental and eclectic music producers Tom Middleton has just landed a job at New York uber-chic boutique hotel Yotel.

As Music Director he’ll be hosting a monthly 'Sound Of The Cosmos' party at Yotel’s Funktion One equipped club and terrace while it’s as ‘sound architect’ that he’s been ‘soundscaping’, crafting music for all Yotel’s public spaces.

Riding up and down the Times Square hotel’s escalators relentlessly and hanging round the toilets incessantly he’s clearly taken his role seriously, expounding further on what soundscaping actually is.

“It’s about employing consumer psychology, strategy, psycho acoustics and subliminal Neuro Sonic Programming techniques to communicate brand messages,” he enthuses.

“There's an opportunity to tailor the soundscape of the specific zones within the Hotel to suit the daily/weekly and seasonal schedules,” he continues.

“From the moment a guest enters Yotel there is an opportunity to use sound design and music to make the transitions from the stresses of travel to comfort and relaxation to drinking, dining, dancing and socializing.”

“Every zone and space has deeply researched and considered sound and music programming to inspire, excite, de-stress, relax, amuse, provoke or allow clarity to think, talk and connect,” he says.

Making his name initially off the back of his ambient experimental alter ego of Global Communication he went on to work with fellow sound explorers Ulrich Schnauss and Aphex Twin simultaneously picking up crossover work remixing the likes of Kylie, Prince and Duran Duran. Nowadays he lists ‘Recording Artist, Producer, Remixer, DJ, Sound Design, TV & Film Soundtracks, Product Design Consultant, Music Compiler and Event Curator’ on his website, reflecting his multi-tasking achievements and aspirations ( )

Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Your job description is Sound Architect, how much of a visual element is involved?
Tom Middleton: “It’s very pertinent to the role because it's a multi-sensory lifestyle experience. The exterior, interior, design, layout, materials, objects, furniture, lighting, (even food and beverages) all inspire aspects of appropriate soundscaping. In this case, it's a fusion of Retro Kubrick Sci-Fi, cutting edge ergonomic and utilitarian Japanese Design, Capsule Hotels, Airport Lounge and First Class Cabin design, blending crisp white shiny surfaces with pleasing rounded corners, warm purple hued fabrics, mood lighting and use of hand carpentered wood.”

Skrufff: You’ve specifically created new elevator music: how much attention have you given to traditional 70s style elevator music and how it worked?
Tom Middleton: “A great deal of attention! Actually this is one of the most exciting challenges and the part of the brief I've been most looking forward to.
You have a captive audience for between 7 and 60 seconds on average. So what can one communicate to the guests in such a short amount of time? The elevator experience is always fascinating. It’s invariably awkward and uncomfortable as complete strangers have to deal with forced proximity and intimacy. The international protocol. What to do? Speak to others? Where to look?”

Skrufff: Why do you think it attracted such a bad name?
Tom Middleton: “Probably due to the terrible music programming of disposable light/easy listening library music that lacked real purpose beyond providing aural wallpaper. It was cheesy in the most part with dreadful arrangements and orchestration. Equally, I think some of that music, if you dig really deep, is amazing since the brief was so specific.”

Skrufff: According to Wikipedia; elevator music ‘is typically set to a very simple melody, so that it can be unobtrusively looped back to the beginning’: how much are you following that strategy (with your bespoke sounds?) or some other strategy?
Tom Middleton: “For the 7 second lift ride from Ground Control (lobby) to FOUR (reception and lounges) I'm employing an ethereal, calming and intriguing ascending and descending arpeggio motif and sound effect made from processing the door bleep. I want the guests to feel like they are being transported into the space and time-warped into the future.
For the guest lifts up to the Cabins (rooms) I've chosen a blend of nostalgic groovy 60's to 70's kitsch TV, Film Themes, Jingles and library music that puts a smile on your face, helps remove that elevator awkwardness and makes you feel like James Bond/Austin Powers heading up to your bachelor penthouse with your sexy,swinging girl/boyfriend. My favorite 'lift track’ of all time and one that is so perfect is The Pointer Sisters Sesame Street Pinball Numbers Theme. I've loved it since I was a kid and in this new context it sounds fantastic.”

Skrufff: Wiki also says ‘In a mall or shopping center, elevator music of a specific type has been found to have a psychological effect: slower, more relaxed music tends to make people slow down and browse longer’: how functional will be your soundscapes?
Tom Middleton: “Music is a very powerful psychological tool for brands to use to influence consumer behavior. I've been really pushing the boundaries with this project. I want guests to be able to enjoy the spaces at any time of day or night, to be able to communicate naturally without competing with intrusive sound levels. If you're having a meeting, in the bar, relaxing in the lounge, catching up with friends, partying, there is a perfect soundtrack to all these experiences that doesn't interfere with the social interaction, merely enhances the mood of the space at that time of day.”
But I'm also playing with the guests on a very subliminal level. I've integrated some humor along the way, and some little 'sonic suggestions.' For example, to put guests in the mood for drink or snack I've made hi fidelity recordings of the sound of a cold fizzy drink being poured over ice and then super crunchy crisps being eaten. And the Green Lounge soundtrack takes you on a World Tour from dawn in England complete with Birdsong, Cows and Country Church Bells to Mediterranean Summer Afternoons with Cicadas and unusual random roaming wildlife to Tropical Jungle at night with frogs, crickets and…wait is that Predator?
And due to the high white/brown noise content of these outdoor ambiences, they actually proved an sonic barrier so the music doesn't spill through from one zone to the other. Physics and Acoustic in action!

Skrufff: In practical terms; how long did you spending riding up and down in lifts; or hanging round toilets, monitoring sounds?
Tom Middleton: “Ha ha ha! The guests probably thought I was some creepy weird stalker, but it was necessary to assess average times people spent in these zones and to consider what one could do with a captive audience for a few seconds or a couple of minutes, or in the case of the Womens toilet, up to 15
minutes including all the preening, grooming, beauty product chat and make up touch up jobs.”

Skrufff: What strategy do you have for toilet music?

Tom Middleton: “Due to the constraints of the speaker wiring circuit it's the same as for the Green Lounge, so outdoor ambiences with quirky out of place SFX to make you do a double take. Did I just hear an Elephant? Or was that Tarzan?
Plus it's a well-used trick in Japanese public toilets to use white noise to mask embarrassing human noises.”
Jonty Skrufff:

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