Posted in music on February 24, 2014

James Murphy getting on the Bedford L (clearly at an off hour)
MTA

Remember James Murphy's idea to make the NYC subway system more musical? He's still talking about it, and was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal in a short video feature:

The subway sounds quite brutal, and there's a missing opportunity at the turnstile. At the moment there's this kind of unpleasant beep. Given that there's already this information in the turnstile, why don't we make it a nice sound, just make it pleasant.
The idea really came to spark when Murphy heard that the MTA were planning to switch to a tap-and-ride from the old swiping system, he saw his chance with new turnstiles. "There's already going to be a thing that makes a sound, why can't it make the nice sound?"

Unfortunately it's probably not going to happen. WSJ points out that Murphy is not the first to have this idea and, more importantly, the MTA is just not that into it. MTA spokesman Andy Lisberg told the Journal, among other things, "we don't really care." Still, Murphy is not giving up on the idea and has set up a website and an online petition for the project. You can read Murphy's plea and can hear what his "nice sounds" might sound like in that video, below....

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Hi. My name is James Murphy, and i'm a musician and long time NYC subway rider. I've been trying for 15 years to find a way to make a very simple project for the subway system come together, and now, with the imminent change announced by the MTA from the MetroCard to a tap and ride system, i feel the time is right to get some help with my little idea.

I love the subway system of my city--one of the most egalitarian, kind and high-functioning miracles in a city known around the world for it's nearly unforgiving toughness. I also love sound, and music. Unfortunately, the sound of the subway is kind of a drag. Every time you swipe your MetroCard, the turnstile emits a flat, unpleasant "beep". 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. It's kind of horrible.

"This is not a big deal!" you cry. "There are way bigger problems in New York!" you yell. You're pretty much totally right. But this one is so infuriating because, quite simply, it would be really cheap and easy to change. And I think it would be really lovely, honestly.

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.

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. And i think that in the years to come, if this system is implemented, people who grew up with these sounds will hear a piece of music at an opera, or on an ad, or in the background of a film and feel a nostalgia for their first apartment, or their basketball practices, as they think "this song reminds me of Borough Hall" or "This song reminds me of my school be East Broadway". I think people reading a magazine will hear their little melody before the station's name is announced and know they're home, even when their language brain is completely engrossed in an interview. I believe that a musician making beats for a rapper from a particular neighborhood will use the melody of the station near their home as the hook for a song, and that every kid from that particular neighborhood will instantly know that this song is about where they're from.

It's financially and technically a pretty simple project, but over the past long while i've found that this doesn't mean it will be easy to make happen. The city has big things to deal with, and the MTA is busy getting me an millions of other New Yorkers to work and school every day. Still, someone's going to make a chip that beeps on the next system... that's a given. All I'm asking for is the chance to help make that beep something memorable.

Please help me make our city just a little more kind.

--James Murphy

2004-present, Brooklyn 1994-2004, Lower East Side 1989-1994, Greenwich Village

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Tags: James Murphy, MTA

Comments (48)

Why does this guy elicit such hatred in me?

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 10:30 AM

He has a bad track record with making memorable beeps.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 10:35 AM

James Murphy lives in Brooklyn? Why not Manhattan!

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 10:48 AM

There was a metro stop in St. Louis that had these crazy light sculptures and played loops of Brian Eno-esque ambient music on the platform. I always thought that was rad.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 10:49 AM

Love this. I want a sonic gift when I ride the subway!

Posted by Kate | February 24, 2014 10:52 AM

Yeah, I think Brian Eno should be called to help with this

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 10:53 AM

MTA Soundsystem

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 10:55 AM

"& sign his petition to make it happen (though it probably won't)"

Then what's the friggin' point? What you say in parentheses is exactly why I never bother to sign any petitions of any sort, even if they're for something I actually like.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 10:58 AM

LOL MTA Soundsystem! what time do they go on?! MTA soundsystem is playing your house last night! LOL You're losing your touch!

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 11:02 AM

I am a chubby chaser

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 11:07 AM

At least he stands off to the side when the doors open. PEOPLE TAKE NOTE.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 11:07 AM

I personally like to get on the train as soon as the doors open, regardless of people trying to get off. The people who stand to the side annoy me because they do nothing but hold up all the people trying to get on the train.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 11:21 AM

11:21 you're an asshole and I hate you

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 11:31 AM

James Murphy doesn't have a car?

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 11:34 AM

11:31, you're the poop on the heel of my shiny shoe LOL

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 11:44 AM

"I personally like to get on the train as soon as the doors open, regardless of people trying to get off. The people who stand to the side annoy me because they do nothing but hold up all the people trying to get on the train."

I personally like jumping in immediately as soon as the doors open and starting a mosh pit hitting everybody. Especially during morning rush hour when it's packed.

I tell ya, there's nothing quite like making a bunch of soul-less eternally passive-agressive drone losers even more agitated.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 11:51 AM

Who cares??

There are a million other problems I have with the subway system. The "beep" when I swipe my Metrocard is definitely not one of them.

Posted by Matt | February 24, 2014 11:55 AM

Here's the thing, and I hold this opinion because I'm usually on the L train, and as we all know those platforms are insanely narrow. If you stand to the side and let all the people get off the train first, then the platform get so crowded that it can almost be impossible to get on the train because now everyone getting off is taking up space on the platform. If you just push your way into the train before letting people off, then the platform is nice and open for these people when they get OFF the train. I'm doing the people a service and yet I almost always get shoved by these people. I don't get it.

Posted by 11:21 | February 24, 2014 12:17 PM

In the world of 'who gives a shits' this is pretty high up on my list.

This dude needs a hobby.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 12:31 PM

As a musician, the LAST thing I want is to be subjected to somebody else's idea of a "series of pleasing beeps". What a terrible idea. Whether it's a moving, mind-opening theme or (far more likely) some inane, overly simplified drivel, I guarantee it's the kind of thing that will get stuck in your head and poison your brain. Like the T-Mobile beeps. Ding-da-ding-DEE-ding! No way. As annoying as I find EVERYONE ELSE'S music on the subway, at least it's temporary and somewhat avoidable. Hearing the same beeps every day for the foreseeable future sounds like torture.

Posted by nonnamus | February 24, 2014 12:32 PM

In the world of 'who gives a shits' this is pretty high up on my list.

This dude needs a hobby.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 12:33 PM

Fart sounds would be great. Everyone would laugh.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 12:56 PM

I support 12:26's idea and will sign that petition in a heartbeat. This city needs a sense of humor.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 1:00 PM

oops I meant 12:56

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 1:01 PM

I like to fart on the train when it is crowded

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 1:18 PM

If they want to make the subway are more pleasant aural experience they should band musicians from playing on the Bedford platform

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 1:38 PM

ban*

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 1:38 PM

flan*

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 1:49 PM

I'd sort of like it to come out that the whole msg instant sellout/T5 debacle was fixed via Bowery Presents and that when Murphy wrote that tantrum against scalper he was lying.

But until a music journalist bothers to expose that corrupt shit I guess I'll just keep typing it here. :-/

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 1:55 PM

Out of every band I've never gotten, his is the one i don't get the most.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 2:09 PM

I'm with nonnamus, this is a horrible idea. Eventually the MTA would sell the rights so that the turnstiles would play jingles.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 2:21 PM

SOLD OUT!!!!

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 2:24 PM

Somebody needs to poke James in the eye.

Silly Peter Pan syndrome to the max.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 3:26 PM

Somebody needs to poke Mr. FF in the eye. Country boy.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 3:56 PM

"In the world of 'who gives a shits' this is pretty high up on my list.
This dude needs a hobby."

This is his hobby. Try again.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 4:45 PM

Somebody needs to hand out flan on the subway platform

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 5:15 PM

MTA spokesman Andy Lisberg: "we don't really care."

Typical shitty attitude from the shittiest organization in Nyc. Eat a bag of shit Andy Lisberg and the entire MTA. Incompetent jerks.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 5:21 PM

Flan for ALL!

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 6:49 PM

I sign petition make man shave beard

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 7:05 PM

James Murphy, New York hates you and you're bringing us down.

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 9:06 PM

Mr. FootFetish is the new Horse_ebooks

Posted by Anonymous | February 24, 2014 10:56 PM

LCD was special

Posted by Anonymous | February 25, 2014 1:50 AM

fuck the scalpers! five trains added at bedford ave! presale tomorrow!

Posted by Anonymous | February 25, 2014 2:07 AM

Have you listened to his proposed sounds, though? If I worked for MTA, i would not give a shit either

Posted by Anonymous | February 25, 2014 9:14 AM

the mta is an experiment to blend affirmative action and bureaucratic management gone horribly awry.

Posted by Anonymous | February 25, 2014 9:57 AM

whatever happened to that hot chink chick in LCD?

Posted by Anonymous | February 25, 2014 10:33 AM

He married her you douche

Posted by eddie | February 25, 2014 5:31 PM

The MTA is a neural network designed by a committee

Posted by Anonymous | February 25, 2014 6:19 PM

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