Hold music

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Conference Call Anatomy


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A badge of honour amongst people of a certain disposition (“warteschleifenmusikopfer”) — they who think the early bird gets the worm, the first cut is the deepest and so on.

There is something psychotic about an organisation which expects you to listen, without protest, to its own corporate tune on a 15 second loop while the AV guy in the room fumbles with the chairperson’s passcode to open an all hands conference call that, in itself, promises an hour-and-a-half of excruciation. In that very chord progression; that percussive, high-energy turnaround — transmitted through one ear of a telephone receiver for maximum total harmonic distortion — you can almost see your remaining good years leaking out of you, in fifteen-second drips, as you sit there.

Being periodically interrupted by the disingenuous assurance that your call is important means you can’t even get on with your work in the mean time.

One can draw pleasingly xenophobic stereotypes over nations and their hold music. The Brits will prefer Elgar (though Europhiles might stretch to Vivaldi); the Luxembourgische a fluffy Straussian waltz; the Austrians a Scorpions greatest hits compilation, while German firms do have hold music (“warteschleifenmusik”) - usually Brahms or something like that — but prefer a stern female voice intoning “BITTE WARTEN. BITTE WARTEN.”

My favourite hold music to date belongs to the Royal Free Hospital in London, and is the gentle birdsong of a summer meadow, punctuated infrequently by someone who sounds like Patricia Hodge whispering that “someone will be with you shortly”. I’m like, “Patricia, don’t rush.”

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