- Composing the next turnstile arpeggio.
Legions of writers, artists and musicians have been inspired by the sights and sounds of New York City—for Walt Whitman, it was the city’s “numberless crowded streets” and “hurried and sparkling waters” that compelled him to pen an ode to “Mannahatta,” while the traffic outside Joni Mitchell’s apartment window “wrote the words” to her “Chelsea Morning.” Last month, at a talk with WNYC’s John Schaefer and David Byrne on the role of the artist in the digital age at the Yale University School of Art, former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy revealed an oft-overlooked New York sound that had been influencing him: the familiar, grating ding of the subway turnstile.
Murphy, who most recently collaborated with the Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn and André 3000 for Converse track “Do Ya Thing,” is looking to work with subway officials on a less irritating, more musical option for the machines. Read the part of the transcript where he explains his thinking after the jump.
“All the subway turnstiles in New York City…make a beep. It’s a really unpleasant sound and the one that’s right next to it is slightly out of key with it. So, it’s like ‘ehhh….aehhh…uehhh’ Unless you get it wrong and it’s like, ‘No!’ Then it’s the sound of your bruised hip as you hit the thing…
So I thought, I love New York and I love its aggression, and I love that it doesn’t make it easier for you to be a member of the city…But, I wanted to change the sound of going through the turnstile to a series of notes – I could do a little program. I could be like, well, the dominant note is the root, this is the fifth, this is the third, have a couple of sevenths, throw a few sixths in there just to be crazy. And during rush hour it would make arpeggiated music. And each subway station could have its own key or tonal set. For me, for a new person going to work, I think it would just be nice. It would be hard not to like that more than ‘shut up, idiot, you’re walking so slow!’
It would be an interesting way to have people relate to the city and I didn’t think it would be that expensive…if anybody knows anybody?”
Damn. If that perky little glockenspiel melody from “Someone Great” played every time I swiped my MetroCard, I’d get a spare in addition to my monthly just so I could gleefully do it again. They raised the rates anyway—why not get more bang for our buck by turning the turnstile into a jukebox of sorts? Less gate-jumping and more fist-pumping, I say.
While that tidbit was certainly a highlight of the discussion, the rest is also very much worth checking out. Listen to David Byrne and James Murphy talk about art school, learning instruments and joke about the availability of unreleased Jonathan Richman acappella songs on the internet here.
Follow Sydney Brownstone on Twitter @sydbrownstone