James Murphy’s Subway Symphony
“It’s kind of a tough city and expensive city but the subway is sort of like this very, very egalitarian, purists’ New York thing, runs all night,” Murphy told the Wall Street Journal. “So I have kind of a love affair, it’s like the best of New York.”
That being said – the musician’s love for the subway isn’t blind. Or rather, deaf. Murphy notes that the beeps that occur as each passenger swipes their MetroCard at the turnstile are “unpleasant.” He explains on his website SubwaySymphony.org, “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.”
Murphy has come up with a solution that would make the subway a more musically pleasing journey. Each of the city’s 468 stations would get a unique series of three to five note sequences, where one note would play each time a passenger passed the turnstile. Instead of an annoying clang of out-of-tune beeps during rush hour, passengers would be greeted with music. The station’s unique set of notes would also play to signify the subway was at that particular stop.
Although MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg tells the WSJ that Murphy’s plan “is a very cool idea” he also says the lack of harmony amongst the turnstiles is because of “a natural technical variation and we really don’t care.” Lisberg says the project could come with a big bill – and the transit authority might not want to temporarily take the city’s 3,289 turnstiles out of service or risk breaking turnstiles.
The musician, who has been working on the project for 15 years, hopes his “Subway Symphony” will really get a chance now that the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is undergoing improvements to the subway including repositioning turnstiles, furniture and emergency exits to the tune of $900,000-a-year, according to the WSJ.
By 2019 the turnstiles will still be there but passengers will get to use a smartphone, card or key embedded with an electronic chip instead of swiping Metrocards. The tones will stick around as they are there to alert the blind, with one tone for “go,” a double tone for “swipe again” and three tones for insufficient fare.
Murphy tells the WSJ the timing is perfect to have tone generators installed or reprogrammed during the turnstile repositioning or when the mechanism is put in to detect the microchips.
To read more about the proposal and to hear a sample of Murphy’s subway sounds click here for the Wall Street Journal story.
And visit SubwaySymphony.org, where you can sign a petition to show your support for the project.