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LCD Soundsystem frontman wants to make NYC subways sing

New York, I Love You But You're Hard On The Ears.


Miles Klee


Posted on Feb 24, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 5:29 pm CDT

Since LCD Soundsystem played its last show, frontman James Murphy has had three years to soak up New York’s ambiance. Now he wants to improve it in a small but meaningful way. Instead of the series of grating, dissonant beeps you hear at busy subway turnstiles, why not a cascade of harmonic tones? Suddenly, you’re part of a symphony.

The Metro Transit Authority currently plans to improve subway travel by replacing card-swipe devices with a more efficient tap-and-ride system—which, Murphy wrote in a statement of purpose, presents an ideal opportunity to put his concept into action:

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.  

Murphy stressed that his vision could be achieved inexpensively, and his logic and timing are sound: “Someone’s going to make a chip that beeps on the next system … that’s a given. All I’m asking for is the chance to help make that beep something memorable.” You can hear a sample of the proposed melodic figures in a video interview Murphy did for the Wall Street Journal; they’re certainly an improvement over the current subway sonics.  

But for all its modest sensibility, it will take some real muscle to bring the Subway Symphony to life—and that’s where you come in. Murphy has created a petition through which people can express their support for nicer noises in New York’s egalitarian underground. In a perfect world, he said, these tones could become part of the cultural fabric of the routes and stations they indicate, even neighborhood-specific rap samples.

The buskers, we suppose, will have to learn to play along.    

H/T Pitchfork | Photo by MTAPhotos/Flickr

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*First Published: Feb 24, 2014, 3:50 pm CST