National Public Viking

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Out on Friendship Heights

After the party, I walked down Western Ave. towards the Friendship Heights Metro. Coming within feet of the escalator, I heard what sounded like two tenor saxophones going at it arrhythmically, each pulsating after the other in an indeterminable time signature. Excitedly, I awaited to reach the bottom of the escalator expecting to see some gruffy looking jazz players, but realized halfway down that these noises came from the escalators themselves. Never have I wanted so much to have my mini-cassette recorder or even my laptop to record such stunning incidental/environmental music. I could have easily sat there for an hour attempting to configure a pattern only to give up and let chance rule. John Cage eventually gave up composition because he felt that the world already produced such beautiful sounds without him interfering. I feel like I could do the same someday.

Inspired by the escalator, I put on Insen by Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of my favorite albums from last year. It's truly a work of ambient beauty. Noto's electronic clicks and stuttered beats form a soft enclosure over Sakamoto's warm, yet closely chorded piano work. Insen is quiet enough so that I could hear the environment around me. It was the perfect escalator transition. As "Moon," which has the album's most harsh (or at least most defined) beat, came through as someone's spilled Coke streamed down the isle while a black woman in white sang softly to herself about Jesus. The rumble and screech of the rails collided with reversed piano loops (some I actually experimented with when I lived on Pulaski St. in Athens on Tim's out of tune piano) adding their own percussion.

I can now see why so many avant-garde musicians (in jazz, modern composition, whereever) find such inspiration in the subway. It pretty much sings for itself.


At 4:43 PM, Blogger DC arts girl said...

I have experienced this exact scenario!! I too was walking past the Friendship Heights escalators one day and heard what I thought were some pretty brave buskers on trombone doing their atonal thing. I got excited and headed down the escalators to see who it was. Halfway down the escalators, I realized I was riding on the "music." I was disappointed but had a good chuckle walking away.


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