Scores for Stores

Activaire brings avant-garde music to avant-garde architecture.

The days of piped-in “elevator music” in retail stores—schmaltzy wordless versions of “Feelings” or “The Girl from Ipanema”—are mostly behind us. But the “lite rock” and “smooth jazz” that have replaced it are hardly an improvement. Lara Wiesenthal is working to change that. A DJ with an architecture degree from the Pratt Institute, she started the company Activaire in 1999 to offer music better suited to the interesting retail spaces in New York.

“I consult with the owners of a store,” Wiesenthal says, “look at the materials in their space, and ask myself what’s going to sound good there.” She then fills an MP3 player with 30 hours of specially selected music licensed from electronic and dance music labels. “I try to score the space as if it were in a movie,” she says.

The MP3 player shuffles the songs, so customers never hear them in the same order, or hear a particular one more than once a week. Every three months Activaire supplies clients with 30 more hours of music. So far the company has created sound tracks for Jussara Lee’s West 12th street boutique, the Stuart Moore Gallery of Designer Jewelry, and the Frank Gehry-designed Issey Miyake store, all in New York.

“Architecture is about movement through space, and of course people move to music too,” Wiesenthal says. “I left the field of architecture to spend more time with music. It’s been really nice because it’s made me enjoy architecture more.”

Recent Programs