The New York Times of July 6, 2009, carried two stories about New York City’s aural life.
In “Sound Tunnel: Avant-Garde Park Portrait,” Randy Kennedy talked about the “found noise concerts” that were to be heard through September 10 in a pedestrian tunnel in NYC’s Central Park, near the Delacorte Musical Clock at East 65th Street. No random big-city cacophonies, these were compositions by contemporary composer John Morton, derived from the park’s own unique natural and human-made sounds.
“(Mr. Morton’s) idea was to construct a kind of aural portrait of the park, using field recordings he would make over many months of wandering around it with a high-definition recorder,” wrote Mr. Kennedy. The idea found favor with the public art program of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, and funding from state and non-profit arts organizations.
Mr. Morton’s musical work includes “rebuilding old music boxes and remixing their tunes,” and the Central Park tunnel idea made use of that precedent. The sounds recorded over hundreds of hours were edited into a computerized sampling/mixing program that played 20-minute random “concerts” in conjunction with the Delacorte chimes throughout the day.
As planned-out as this project must have been, it still made use of a lot of serendipity. Mr. Kennedy quoted Mr. Morton: “I had a lot of sounds I knew I wanted to get, but then I just let my ear lead me.”
Meanwhile, across town …
There would seem to be enough noise in a NYC subway station that introducing new noises would be, at best, a superfluous idea. But broadcast recordings of new noises — natural noises, not transit-made din and squeals — are among the proposed features of a station being built at 96th and Broadway.
In “A Calming Presence Amid the Groans and Screeches,” Michael M. Grynbaum described many of the non-traditional design features being considered by the MTA — through its Arts For Transit program — for the new station. As one would expect, most of the features involve visual elements. But there may be room for “noises of a more verdant variety … an aural component.”
“It’s an experiment in many ways, to see what else will work in this environment,” said an Arts For Transit representative.
“… I just let my ear lead me … to see what else will work …” Indeed, where do ideas come from?