On Discord and YouTube, hundreds of Gen-Zers are teaming up for the purpose of finding and archiving the Muzak (aka elevator music) that played in the plaza, the lobby and the mall of the Twin Towers. On this 22nd anniversary of 9/11, join Endless Thread in an episode where teens and young 20-somethings collect the seemingly innocuous sonic artifacts of the original World Trade Center people thought were lost and the lengths they've gone to find them.
- Official World Trade Center Muzak Community YouTube Channel
- Discord link: World Trade Center Muzak Community: (WTCMC)
- ABC News: Audio Tape Reveals Sounds of Sept. 11
This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.
Ben: Hey Quincy.
Quincy: Hey Ben.
Ben: Do you ever think about how your name is close to the fruit quince? The medieval fruit Quince.
Quincy: No. This is the first time I’m hearing of the medieval fruit called quince.
Ben: You can make jam out of it and jelly. And it’s delicious. And that’s all. I just hope someday that I make some quince jam and bring it to you.
Ben: And that’s all.
Quincy: Is it like a fig?
Ben: It’s pretty Quincy.
Quincy: Okay. Oh dear.
Ben: So you have a story for us that’s not quince fruit.
Quincy: Yes. Yes, I do. Ben, when I say the word "Muzak", what comes to mind?
Ben: Who’s the guy with the saxophone? You know the guy.
Quincy: Kenny G?
Ben: Kenny G. No offense to Kenny G. That’s usually what comes to mind. Smooth elevator Jams.
Quincy: A lot of people call it elevator music. Some of it does sound like easy listening. But it’s got a bad wrap, I guess you could say. But 25-year-old Dylan Sandas listens to the stuff leisurely.
Dylan Sandas: They're great songs. I know that it was derided for years in this country as elevator music or waiting music. But it really is good stuff and they're very talented. And yeah, I do find myself listening to it a lot. You’ll say "This is a really damn good song. What a good cover. What a good thing."
Quincy: When Dylan says “what a good cover” there, he’s talking about the fact that a lot of Muzak are smooth jazz instrumental covers of pop music hits from different eras. He’s part of a Discord Group and a YouTube group of young people that essentially obsesses over and archives this “elevator music.”
Ben: Okay. This is already – I’m already in. Get me into this Discord. I’m ready.
Quincy: Good good. Because no two groups are as dismissed as the latest Generations and elevator Music. And this story is going to combine the two. They’re going to join forces.
Ben: Wow. I cannot wait to not dismiss them. I might be a little more dismissive of elevator music. I always appreciate the younger generations, but I love to see them join forces. Let's do it.
Quincy: There’s a very specific playlist of this kind of music that this group of younger people love to listen to. Including Dylan.
Dylan: A lot of our people in our search have uploaded versions of it, remastered versions. It's funny because you'll have like How Deep is Your Love? A 2022 remaster. And the comments are like, this isn't the Bee Gees. What is this? What is it? What is this? Why is there a picture of the World Trade Center? Because some people don't know. And then you tell them, you're like, oh, that's really interesting.
Quincy: The group Dylan’s in has been specifically combing through video footage and other media from the Twin Towers on September 11th for the past few years. They call themselves the World Trade Center Muzak Community.
Ben: Okay. I wasn’t sure if this story could get stranger and now it has. This is very bizarre.
Quincy: I would say more interesting than strange, but I might be biased. So in 2010, footage from a cameraman named Jack Taliercio was uploaded onto YouTube. And legend has it that Somewhere in London, a Discord user named W4SP – saw that video. And amid all that destruction they couldn’t help but notice the music playing in the plaza of the twin towers. So, W4SP started the World Trade Center Muzak Community to enlist others who wanted to identify the Muzak that played in the plaza and lobbies of the Twin Towers. They don’t have confirmation this Muzak played in the elevators, though.
Ben: This is, again, to me a community that can only exist because of the internet.
Quincy: Because this is just not something you can do with a penpal or something.
Dylan: Like I said, I call him the founder of the group. W4SP. He has a whole library of thousands of Muzak recordings. And he’ll see if that title even exists. If it exists, boom. We’ll listen to it. "Ah, that doesn’t sound like it." Ah. "Oh We got a match" and then we find it. And then we put it on YouTube.
Quincy: Do you think he’d be willing to talk to me or probably?
Dylan: No way. He barely talks to me.
Quincy: When they do talk, it’s usually through Discord. But the songs in that footage, shot by Jack Taliercio – there are four songs on it heard on it: "She’s Always A Woman" by Billy Joel,
Quincy: "How Deep Is Your Love" by the Bee Gees.
Quincy: "Will You Comeback My Love" By The Wrens And then there’s this one.
Quincy: Ben, what do you hear?
Ben: Just listening for the music, I’m hearing a tinkly piano ethereal piano. That’s what I’m hearing.
Quincy: Yeah. The distinct thing people in the group heard is a sort of twinkling noise. So the group called it “ice cream song” as in an ice cream truck.
Ben: Okay, I’m going to say this, Quincy, as a 10-year long New York City resident, when I hear ice cream truck. I hear one song, which is the (sung) de-de-de de-de
Quincy: Right. But it’s always in that high note register. Where the –
Ben: Yeah. Toy piano zone.
Quincy: Yeah. Exactly.
Ben: I’m with you.
Quincy: I can hear it.
Dylan: And it had these twinkling keys and it sounded like wind chimes. We didn’t know what was going on. So we called it that. We need to find Ice cream. We need to find ice cream. Ice cream
Quincy: Dylan and his collaborators. Scoured other media for Muzak that was playing at the World Trade Center that day. For instance, there’s the audio recording from an FBI informant wearing a wire.
Ben: Wait. Okay. This is a bit of a record scratch. I didn’t know there was some sort of sting operation on September 11th.
Quincy: Yeah, in a complete coincidence, the FBI was doing sort of investigation in bribery for several city tax people, auditors –
Quincy: No. people who work for the city, who handle taxes for the city. They did get some convictions from that recording. But in that recording, from the person wearing the wire, they manage to hear this . . .
[Faint music in a mall]
Ben: Okay what I hear there, Quincy, there is (sung) Ne-ne-ne-ne ne-ne. Something like that. Some kind of halting melody.
Quincy: Yeah. What I hear is (sung) buh-buh-buh-buh. Probably off tune.
Ben: All right. That’s not bad. Alright. So this group of people really wanted to know what this song was.
[Instrumental cover of “Have I Told You Lately”]
Ben: Oh my God. (Sung) Have I told you lately that I love you. A true classic.
Quincy: So with those faint notes to go on, members of this group based on Discord and YouTube scour Muzak collections from the late '90s to early 2000s, and they reach out to composers and the company called Muzak – it’s now Mood Media– until they find a match. And in this case, it’s “Have I Told You Lately” originally sung by Rod Stewart
Dylan: A needle in a haystack. What a 1 in a billion chance that an FBI agent is going to be on a sting, have a recording. It survived, he survives. And it had music on it. That was an extraordinarily 1 in a billion chance.
Quincy: So, Dylan joined the group in 2021. At 25, he’s probably one of the older people in the group. When 9/11 happened a lot of them weren’t even born yet.
Dylan: And it’s up to these – this new generation to make sure that we never forget. And I think that they’re doing a damn good job at it for people who’re 15, 16, 13, 10 years old.
Ben: So are these intensely patriotic young people or are they just super interested in this tragic thing that occurred before their lifetimes that have changed the direction of US history?
Quincy: I think it’s more of the latter. Because in addition to the group being composed of a lot of young people, a lot of these kids–I guess, essentially– don’t even live in America. They’ve never been to America before. It’s this thing that they’ve been attracted to, that they’ve been drawn to. And I think different reasons draw people to it. Some people do it because they like old music. Or some people are fascinated by 9/11 and went down a rabbit hole that led them here.
Ben: And they’re really in search of this one song that they call “ice cream?'
Quincy: Yeah. That’s the heart of the group. That’s why it started. In the pursuit of looking for this song, they found others. So in this episode, we’ll see who these kids are and join the hunt for ice cream.
Ben: I mean I’m always down to join a hunt for ice cream. I’m Ben Brock Johnson.
Quincy: And I’m Quincy Walters.
Ben: And you’re listening to Endless Thread.
Quincy: We’re coming to you from WBUR, Boston’s NPR station.
Quincy: At 25, Dylan is kind of an outlier in this group. That’s a good majority of the people are younger. Not old enough to even remember 9/11 in the first place. A lot of them weren’t even born yet. And many have never even been to America ever. Dylan, however, is a native of Long Island.
Dylan: I mean I still pass businesses on Long Island to this day that still have their H as the World Trade Center. Still. They’re not there anymore. They haven’t been there for 22 years. They still use them They were such an icon.
Quincy: He distinctly remembers being 4 and how the morning of September 11th unfolded.
Dylan: My mom worked at 9, she was home with me. We were watching the news watching CBS, you know their morning show with Bryant Gumbel and then obviously he says. . .
Bryant Gumbel: It’s 8:52 here in New York, I’m Bryant Gumbel. We understand that there has been a plane crash on the southern tip of Manhattan. You’re looking at the World Trade Center. . .
Dylan: I remember the South Tower.
Quincy: He had family members who were first responders who couldn’t be contacted for hours. So he can’t forget 9/11. And he talks about how people sort of commemorated the Twin Towers in the early stages of YouTube. It was essentially clips from the attack, with a song behind it.
Dylan Sandas: It was “Hero” by Mariah Carey and it was “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias and “Only Time” by Enya. Everybody who was alive for 9/11 knows that those three songs are like the three 9/11 songs. That's what they are.
Quincy: And “Heaven."
Dylan Sandas: "Heaven."
Quincy: And I stand corrected because the track is called “I Miss You Daddy.” And it’s supposed to be from the perspective of a young girl who loses her father in the attacks.
From “I Miss You Daddy”: I really, really miss you. Mommy says you’re safe now in a beautiful place called heaven.
Quincy: Anyway, the reason you hear me chime in is because back then, I was 7 when 9/11 happened. But my relationship with the Twin Towers started in 1999 when I took a picture of them with my Elmo camera while visiting the Empire State Building. 9/11 made me realize I needed glasses because I couldn’t see what was unfolding on TV.
Quincy: Yeah and my family took me to visit Ground Zero around Christmas 2001. And also they accommodated me because I wouldn’t go on a plane for the next two or three years, but this --
Ben: Do you know what’s interesting about this Quincy? How old do you think I was when this happened?
Quincy: Let’s say 20-something maybe?
Ben: 21! You were 7 and I was 21 and we both had the exact same reaction, which is definitely not interested in getting into a plane for like 2 years
Quincy: It’s kinda something that is just imprinted on your mind, maybe. I don’t know. But this episode isn’t about me. There’s a YouTube Channel called Top Trade Center Muzak. And it’s run by Euri. Her most recent upload is of 33 tracks of Muzak from the World Trade Center. She lives in the Philippines and says she grew up seeing the Twin Towers in movies. I think I saw something that said the Twin Towers show up in 472 movies or something like that. And back in 2020, she remembers hanging out with a friend and the subject of the towers came up.
Euri: In the PS4 LEGO game, I was curious “Hey where are the Twin Towers in the game?” and my friend said, “Dude it’s gone.” Along those lines. And I was like Oh. I hope it was rebuilt.” And then when I checked on YouTube, yes it was destroyed, but sadly it was never rebuilt. I mean technically it is but not literally as it used to.
Quincy: Okay okay okay. And Euri, how old are you?
Euri: You’d be surprised I’m actually turning 15 in 20 days as of being recording right now. I practically already exist. No need to worry. You may treat me normally.
Quincy: Some could say she’s an old soul and it’s kinda corroborated by how she got into the Muzak group of the Twin Towers.
Euri: I’m actually the type of person who likes old music. Back in 2021, when I was interested into World Trade Center I listened and I heard the songs and I had the urge it made me want to look for these songs and then I tried looking for it and quote unquote realized the song “How Deep Is Your Love” is from Frank Chacksfield which is what I thought.
Quincy: Finding out about the Twin Towers through the LEGO video game should’ve been a giveaway that this was a young person, but I had no idea. And Euri says in a way, finding and archiving the Muzak that played at the Twin Towers – these larger-than-life structures that no longer exist – makes her more appreciative of life.
Euri: Time is like a companion. It goes with us on our journey. It reminds us to cherish every moment, because it never comes again.
Quincy: Yeah. Who said that? Did you write that?
Euri: I did not write it. It’s from a movie. Star Trek: Generations.
Quincy: And coincidentally, or maybe not coincidentally, Euri was quoting Captain Picard, sifting through the rubble of the Enterprise.
Captain Picard: Somehow I doubt this will be the last ship to carry the name Enterprise.
Dylan: And then finally, just serendipity, coincidence, as pure as it can get on April 4th, 2023 . . .
Quincy: Dylan says this is an important date because it’s the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Twin Towers. And speaking of sifting through things, on this day W4SP, the group’s leader came across this tune.
Ben: It’s a very nice song, Quincy but I don’t think this is the ice cream. I don’t think this is what they’re looking for. But I don’t know. I’m not a professional 25-year-old Muzak hunter.
Quincy: Fair. It’s not.
Quincy: But in a way, it was close enough.
W4SP: I heard it and I thought it was unlikely because it was just something about it which I thought, it gave me a similar feel in a way to this mystery song.
Ben: Wait, Quincy, we’re going to hear from enigmatic, reclusive W4SP?
Quincy: We do. WASP came across this song and it put him on the right path. Which we’ll get to. Right after a moment of uncertainty and these messages.
Quincy: So, we’ve been talking to these young people who have been archiving what’s essentially the elevator music of the original World Trade Center.
Ben: And they’re led by an elusive 17-year-old, named W4SP – that’s W-4-S-P– who barely talks to his fellow Muzak archivists. But, thanks to you Quincy, he talked to Endless Thread.
Q: Oh our show’s reputation precedes us, Ben. Amory was just in the New York Times this week. W4SP was making a discovery by finding a musician who might have been connected to the ice cream song. But at the same time, the group was debating whether to reach out to the man who shot the footage the song was in. And that is Jack Taliercio who was a news cameraman at the time.
W4SP: Well, that’s something we’ve all had quite a few arguments about, because some people have been trying to contact Jack and then other people in the group have been like we shouldn’t do this, it might bring back bad memories or he might not take it well. I don’t really know which side to choose on this. But someone basically commented on his Facebook and said how we have heard the music that was playing in his footage. And he actually responded with a sad face emoji.
Jack Taliercio: Well, I appreciate that consideration.
Quincy: This is Jack Taliercio.
Jack: This memory is alive with me. It isn’t something that I will ever forget or that I’m actively trying to forget.
Quincy: He says he gets a lot of requests to talk about 9/11. And he usually ignores them.
Jack: In some ways it’s helpful for me to talk about it, to revisit it.
Quincy: And when he revisits it, he remembers the debris falling from the tower, cradling his camera and then taking shelter under an overhang in the plaza.
Jack: And that's where the Muzak was, which created this really bizarre, surreal feeling. Because I was hearing this music and there was destruction all around me. ]
Quincy: And I sent Jack the video WTC Muzak Community put online, that says “Mystery Song, can anyone find this song?”
Jack: Wow. What do I think happened with this second bit of footage you sent me is a cute little soundtrack over some video, clearly not an ambient sound, right? And I can easily confirm for you exactly what was playing in the plaza while I was there.
Ben: So wait. Is he saying that this is not the song on the video?
Quincy: That’s what it sounds like to me. It was devastating to me. The idea that the Ice Cream Song I and the WTC Muzak community had been searching for could be a red herring–music that was added to the footage later, not part of the original World Trade Center music. I wasn’t sure what to do next.
Jack: Well, I can pull up my own footage. Because for sure it was Billy Joel and a Bee Gees tune.
Quincy: By the way, Jack says he has no idea how his footage got posted online. But while he’s pulling up his original footage, I’m trying to find the silver lining here.
Jack: That’s She’s Always a Woman to Me.
Quincy: The WTC Muzak community accomplished quite a feat, but they’ve wasted all this time and energy and so much hope had been built on this moment.
Jack: This is that piano.
Quincy: It’s true. Those twinkling piano keys are undeniable. Indisputable. Despite his first assumptions that the music was added later, upon reviewing the footage, Jack was now an honorary member of our group of online teenage sleuths in search of ice cream. The song whose title was still elusive. And he was getting into a reverie from this WTC Muzak community.
Jack: They may find that the interest in the project may be greater than what they imagine. This may be music that played repeatedly over the day and the weeks and maybe something that folks that worked at the Twin Towers or visited the Twin Towers often. So, you never know.
Quincy: So W4SP, is the 17-year-old mastermind behind the Official World Trade Center Muzak Community. He started it when he was 14 years old. And this might sound made up, but it was the 50th anniversary of the Twin Towers’ grand opening and he was traveling through canola fields, listening to Muzak collections from the late 90s, early 2000s.
W4SP: Basically what happened is on the fourth of April this year, I was in the passenger seat of my car and I was listening through Muzak recordings that I haven’t heard many times. And there was one Muzak called Lizabeth’s Lullaby by Mike Strickland and I heard it and I thought “Could this be the person that made the mystery song?”
Quincy: And then W4SP went to Mike Strickland’s website to find his email address.
W4SP: I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t contact him. It’s probably not him. But then I was like well okay I have to contact him, because if it is him and I don’t contact him, then we’re wasting our time looking for the song.
Quincy: So W4SP sent the email. And he attached the footage with the faint twinkling music that would later be nicknamed “ice cream”.
W4SP: He wasn’t awake at the time I contacted him, but his wife responded to my email.
Mike Strickland: So, she received the email and listened to it and then she said “Is this you? I cant tell."
Quincy: This is Mike Strickland.
Mike: Because the audio was so buried in the fountain noise there at the plaza. And they’re shooting it with 2001 technology. But there was this strain of a saxophone and piano but very buried in the audio almost and I went “I can’t tell.” And then I went and listen to it again through my headphones in the studio and then I went “Oh yeah. I hear it now, you know what? I think that is one of my songs.”
Quincy: And this is the song he heard.
[“On the Wind” by Mike Strickland]
W4SP: He responded to my email and said “Yeah, this is something I made and it’s called “On the Wind” from his 1998 album On the Wind. And I listened to it and I was like “That’s it” and then I realized it had differences. It wasn’t the same thing that was happening in the plaza.
Mike: He said “Yeah, but it’s not quite the right song.” And he said “Because we’re listening to how it lines up with the music, because how the music is being played in the video footage– it wasn’t lining up on certain thing where the sax make and entrance here and this sort of thing.
W4SP: We realized there must have been another version that he made of On The Wind and . . .
Quincy: And then the email Back and forth just stopped.
W4SP had been looking for this song for the last 3 years since he was 14 years old. And up until this point, Mike had completely forgotten about this song. Back in the ‘90s and the early 2000s he was at peak success.
Mike: I’m hearing it in grocery stores when I’m shopping. People call me up or email me, saying “Hey Mike. I heard your music in Seoul, South Korea in a shopping mall or whatever. In the airport”.
Quincy: Then he was hired by CBS and Disney and so he’d compose something and it had to be on to the next one. So here in 2023, he had to solicit outside help to see if anyone from around that time knew what song this could be. And the sudden stop in the email exchange between him and W4SP was because Mike was waiting for an old producer to contact him back. But W4SP sort of nudged him in a follow-up email.
Mike: He said “You wouldn’t believe how many people are waiting for this song. This is like the missing part of the entire puzzle of the playlist of what was going on in the plaza that day when the 9/11 attacks happened. And here’s this juxtaposition of this horrific scene of Twin Towers – both still standing – burning and the video is showing that and then panning down across the plaza with the fountain and my music is playing in there. I mean it’s just surreal and so . . .
Quincy: And so now Mike, with a newfound determination, was gonna get this song for the community that was eagerly waiting for it. He went up into his attic where he has an archive of his old music, on an old format called Digital Audio Tape.
Ben: Mm. Love me some DAT.
Quincy: Exactly. A blast from the past. And the first tape he played wasn’t it. Well, actually he said he had to repair the machine because it didn’t work
Ben: Oh boy.
Quincy: And so then he played the second one.
[“Windless” by Mike Strickland]
Mike: And I went “Holy Smokes! This is the cut they’re looking for and I bet this is going to line up.” Because there’s a certain minor 9th interval when he goes into the sax solo that happens and that was kinda the tell.
W4SP: And he found the 1996 version of “On The Wind,” which is also known as “Windless” on this tape. He emailed me to tell me he’s found it. He sent us the MP3 and that’s how we found it.
Quincy: To the layperson, this difference may be so minute. But W4SP is a musician, he plays piano and composes, so he has an ear out for these things (he composes music under the YouTube moniker Inventurus Music). But it’s also a testament to the sort of meticulous method that’s done to confirm these songs. And so The Official World Trade Center Muzak Community’s YouTube channel posted it.
Mike: It’s really surprised me how this thing has taken roots. I looked at the video a month ago and it had 9,000 views and I went that’s amazing.
Mike: My mission statement on my life as a musician and everything is to create good musical works that are put out there that make the world a better place. Leave people feeling better.
Quincy: He said “Windless” was a song he forgot about. But now he says he’s kinda taking in the humanity of this moment.
Ben: Now that the World Trade Center Muzak Community has all of the music confirmed from Jack’s footage, they’re continuing their search for pre-9/11 Muzak.
Quincy: And W4SP says there’s still a trove of home movies of the Twin Towers that they’re combing through, all towards this effort of helping preserve the entire story of the Twin Towers, not just their ending.
W4SP: It feels like a fun thing to be a part of, trying to find this music. Also it feels like we’re recovering something that we thought was lost, like we’re recovering history that we didn’t know existed anymore. The music is rare, you don’t hear it much anymore. It’s a big part of the '90s and what it would’ve been like to be at the complex around that time and be at the World Trade Center at the time. And I just think it’s quite important to us.
Ben: Well, this is a community I never would have imagined existed in the first place and I certainly never would have imagined would necessarily be up to the task of successfully identifying all of the Muzak in the World Trade Center. It’s a strange and a bit of a beautiful story Quincy.
Quincy: Yeah. Strange and beautiful is a good way to put it. And just closing thoughts– and forgive me 9/11 was an event started this century. And it’s colored everything after it. It’s there when you go through airport security. You probably know that, on a daily basis, your safety isn’t guaranteed. Your government spies on you to keep you safe. And also to keep you safe, your government goes out into the world to vanquish terrorists. It also may have created some new ones. And I think this Muzak, in a really roundabout way, maybe is a token from a time before all that. It’s like this music is what played on the last day of ground zero in this century’s loss aloofness and innocence.