When interviewing musicians, one of my favorite questions to ask is always in regard to their favorite sounds outside the conventional realm of music. For composer Nico Muhly, who seems to always be in transit, he told me that his dream large-scale project would be a “big piece of civic music-making”—to redo all the “alert sounds of New York. I would do all the airports, Penn Station, subway stations—I want to do all that shit.” And when it comes to all those sounds we hear so frequently in everyday life that our conscious mind may not always even be aware of, it seems Muhly isn’t the only one with a passion for such. And recently, we’ve learned that musician James Murphy has been working to re-imagine the sounds of the New York subway stations himself.
“I started noticing that the subway sounds quite brutal,” Murphy says. “There’s a missing opportunity at the turnstile.” That opportunity could be seized as New York prepares to begin a big project to reposition the subway turnstiles to increase efficiency in stations. “Given that all that information is already at the turnstile, why don’t we just make it a nice sound? Just make it pleasant,” Murphy says.
Sounds like a nice idea, right? But New York City officials aren’t really buying it—MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg told the WSJ that the current sounds are grating because of a “natural technical variation and we don’t really care.” Lisberg also pointed out that many people have had similar ideas over the years, and it would require a lot of resources “for an art project.”