As frontman of LCD Soundsystem and co-founder of DFA records, musician James Murphy helped redefine New York City’s underground music scene over the last fifteen years. Now he wants to revolutionize another underground sound — the turnstiles of the NYC subway.
Instead of the cold, sharp beeps that riders hear when swiping their MetroCards, Murphy has proposed “making the city a slightly nicer place to be” with a subway symphony. He wants to replace those unpleasant sounds with a unique series of more soothing notes of his own composition. A sample of the new notes can be heard here and sound like thumb piano lullabies.
At peak hours, stations would radiate rich harmonies. Each of NYC’s 468 subway stations would boast notes in different keys. As well, those same notes would play in a sequence as the train arrives at the stop.
A self-described subway sound geek, Murphy told the Wall Street Journal his obsession began in the 1990s when he rode the Tokyo metro and was in awe of its “incredibly gentle beeps.”
“In New York at the time, you had all this indistinguishable yelling and horrible ‘you’ve done something wrong’ sounds,” he said. “I became kind of obsessed with this idea that instead of just unpleasant, with almost no change at all, it could be beautiful.”
Several other people have proposed similar ideas over the years, but Murphy’s name-recognition and resume could provide enough momentum for the initiative to manifest, especially now that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has two projects in the works to improve passenger flow and redesign turnstiles.
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg called Murphy’s plan “a very cool idea,” but ultimately said taking the city’s 3,289 turnstiles out of service was something the MTA was not inclined to do “for an art project.”
Murphy writes on the project’s website: “I believe that music makes people happy, and makes them reflective. I think people who are willing to do what it takes to live here and work here — the commutes and the crowds, deserve a small sonic gift on their way home, or to deliver something, or getting to their school in another neighborhood.”
Those interested in replacing the turnstile sounds with the sounds of the Subway Symphony can sign Murphy’s petition.