Weekend Informer: Traffic Jam
The rest of the NewMusicBox team has been out of the office this Friday; they’ve literally been parked at an important conversation for future publication: stay tuned. And, if you visited the site earlier today, you might have noticed that we were technologically challenged for most of the day. But fear not, the Friday Informer shall not be stopped, even though it is a tad bit later than usual this time around. And, since I’ve never been in this particular driver’s seat before, be prepared for a bumpy ride. Here goes…
The Car Music Project has already begun sending out emails announcing their July concert at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, promising all new music from old car parts. The group, founded by Emmy Award-winning composer Bill Milbrodt, was news to me but apparently they’ve been around since 1994. Their own website doesn’t offer much fuel beyond an enticing sound sample (only for folks on high-speed connections using Flash), but for a sneak preview of what some of these automotive musical contraptions look like, the information super highway (remember that expression) has an exit lane that will take you here.
Of course, these guys aren’t the only people steering music in a different direction by using car parts. The Congo-based group Konono No. 1, founded by virtuoso likembe player Mingiedi, has been creating music on instruments using magnets salvaged from wrecked cars for over 25 years. (If you think their music sounds like old school Downtown minimalism, remember that African music sounded like this eons before Philip Glass was a taxi driver.)
Wendy Chambers’s Car Horn Organ, which made its debut in 1983, has always been a personal “oddball instrument” favorite. Stephen Montague recently has upped the ante by keeping the car horns in the cars for a piece that was just done, where else, in Texas, and actually made it to CNN. This might even get me to finally learn how to drive!
When I told composer Dennis Bathory-Kitsz about all this car music this morning, he seemed totally non-plussed, having gone down that road several times since 1978 with a series of car horn symphonies involving some 30 vehicles, two of which you can hear here. (For the really adventurous, here’s a not-quite Mapquest
But, still, it seems like there ought to be a lot of other musical applications for the automobile out there waiting to be test driven. Take, for example, this rather extraordinarily detailed page from the UK Highway Code; are you imagining metrical modulations, too? To return to Philip Glass, I’ve never been on a highway without thinking of Koyaanisqatsi, but if a visual simulacrum of heavy traffic looks like this, what could an audio simulacrum sound like? I was hoping something like this would have turned up on Amazon’s only submitted list of favorite car music, but I’m afraid I might have veered into the wrong lane with this one.
Have I driven you crazy yet? Someone once told me that John Cage claimed he heard as much music in rush hour traffic up Sixth Avenue as he did in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, but I’ve never been able to substantiate the quote. Any feedback on this is more than welcome.