james murphy

James Murphy has long been a resident of New York, and for the last 15 years the LCD Soundsystem frontman and DFA Records cofounder has been trying to turn a Tokyo subway system-inspired dream into a reality. As anyone who passes through the subterranean labyrinth that is the New York City subway knows, it can get very noisy. “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,” says Murphy on his Subway Symphony website dedicated to gathering support for his cause: to make the turnstiles part of a network wide concert. And with the MTA set to start work on NFC-based ticketing, Murphy reckons it’s the perfect time to make it happen.

What I propose to do is to create a series of 3 to 5 note sequences, all unique, one for each station in the subway system.  These sequences will be part of an intersecting larger piece of music, which would run from station to station, and cross one another as, say, the 4, 5, 6 line (one musical piece) intersects with the L, N, R, Q and W (another musical piece) at Union Square.  At each turnstile in Union Square, as you tap your new tap and ride card, a pleasant bell tone will sound, in one of a set of possible notes, all related to that station’s note sequence.  The effect would be that at the busiest times, like rush hour, what was once cacophony would now be music.

It’s a daunting task, creating unique pieces of music–even if only 3 to 5 notes each–for all of the city’s 468 subway stations, and Murphy hasn’t completed the project yet. But as he sates in the in-depth Wall Street Journal article covering the history of his idea, he is prepared to drop everything and finish the job if the MTA is willing to help implement his plan. Watch the video for a demo of what the Subway Symphony would sound like and head over to the website to voice your support.


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