James Murphy Wants to Make Riding the Subway a Little Less Miserable

While James Murphy, he of LCD Soundsystem fame, has always made crowd-pleasing alterna-pop tracks, he has higher aspirations. Specifically, arranging sounds that transcend music altogether and become a more integral part of people’s lives. Now that LCD Soundsystem is but a fond memory, it seems he’ll have plenty of time to devote to his latest aural pursuit, the Subway Symphony.

He explains thusly: “The sound of the subway is kind of a drag. Every time you swipe your MetroCard, the turnstile emits a flat, unpleasant ‘beep.’ Each turnstile emits its own beep, all of which are slightly out of tune with one another, creating a dissonant rubbing-styrofoam-on-glass squeak in stations all around New York City.”

“What I propose to do is to create a series of 3 to 5 note sequences, all unique, one for each station in the subway system. These sequences will be part of an intersecting larger piece of music, which would run from station to station, and cross one another as, say, the 4, 5, 6 line (one musical piece) intersects with the L, N, R, Q and W (another musical piece) at Union Square. At each turnstile in Union Square, as you tap your new tap and ride card, a pleasant bell tone will sound, in one of a set of possible notes, all related to that station’s note sequence. The effect would be that at the busiest times, like rush hour, what was once cacophony would now be music.”

“I think people who do what it takes to live here and work here — the commutes and the crowds — deserve a small sonic gift.” So while bedraggled users of the city’s archaic subways, particularly those in shamefully neglected outer boroughs, might wish for more pressing updates to the system, at least they’ll feel slightly less miserable while stranded on a lonely platform, fading to grey.

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