Weekend Informer: Traffic Jam

Weekend Informer: Traffic Jam

The rest of the NewMusicBox team has been out of the office this Friday; they’ve literally been parked at an important conversation for future publication: stay tuned. And, if you visited the site earlier today, you might have noticed that we were technologically challenged for most of the day. But fear not, the Friday Informer shall not be stopped, even though it is a tad bit later than usual this time around. And, since I’ve never been in this particular driver’s seat before, be prepared for a bumpy ride. Here goes…

The Car Music Project has already begun sending out emails announcing their July concert at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, promising all new music from old car parts. The group, founded by Emmy Award-winning composer Bill Milbrodt, was news to me but apparently they’ve been around since 1994. Their own website doesn’t offer much fuel beyond an enticing sound sample (only for folks on high-speed connections using Flash), but for a sneak preview of what some of these automotive musical contraptions look like, the information super highway (remember that expression) has an exit lane that will take you here.

Of course, these guys aren’t the only people steering music in a different direction by using car parts. The Congo-based group Konono No. 1, founded by virtuoso likembe player Mingiedi, has been creating music on instruments using magnets salvaged from wrecked cars for over 25 years. (If you think their music sounds like old school Downtown minimalism, remember that African music sounded like this eons before Philip Glass was a taxi driver.)

Wendy Chambers’s Car Horn Organ, which made its debut in 1983, has always been a personal “oddball instrument” favorite. Stephen Montague recently has upped the ante by keeping the car horns in the cars for a piece that was just done, where else, in Texas, and actually made it to CNN. This might even get me to finally learn how to drive!

When I told composer Dennis Bathory-Kitsz about all this car music this morning, he seemed totally non-plussed, having gone down that road several times since 1978 with a series of car horn symphonies involving some 30 vehicles, two of which you can hear here. (For the really adventurous, here’s a not-quite Mapquest

roadmap for Symphony No. 2. Of course, if you’re more environmentally conscious, you might want to stick to bicycles, like Richard Lerman did

But, still, it seems like there ought to be a lot of other musical applications for the automobile out there waiting to be test driven. Take, for example, this rather extraordinarily detailed page from the UK Highway Code; are you imagining metrical modulations, too? To return to Philip Glass, I’ve never been on a highway without thinking of Koyaanisqatsi, but if a visual simulacrum of heavy traffic looks like this, what could an audio simulacrum sound like? I was hoping something like this would have turned up on Amazon’s only submitted list of favorite car music, but I’m afraid I might have veered into the wrong lane with this one.

Have I driven you crazy yet? Someone once told me that John Cage claimed he heard as much music in rush hour traffic up Sixth Avenue as he did in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, but I’ve never been able to substantiate the quote. Any feedback on this is more than welcome.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

4 thoughts on “Weekend Informer: Traffic Jam

  1. Alex Shapiro

    Dear Frank is clearly mentally preparing… no, steeling himself… for his upcoming trip to car-crazy Los Angeles, where he will be speaking at the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo. Why do I get the feeling that as car horns blare from time to time outside his Hollywood hotel room, he will be taking copious notes…. Ab… D… F#….


  2. Frank J. Oteri

    I just received some further clarification about The Car Music Project from its leader, composer Bill Milbrodt:

    Just for clarification: I started the project in 1994, but I did not put together an ongoing musical entity until early 2005. Prior to 2005, a few shows occurred here and there and, for them, musicians were assembled on an ad hoc basis. So, promotion was very sporadic, which is probably why information about us never came to your attention … The Car Music Project is now an ongoing entity. As with any group, musicians may come and go over time, but the basic premise will be the same. Currently, the core ensemble includes the following musicians:

    Bill Milbrodt: Air Guitar (strings)
    James Spotto: Strutbone & Exhaustaphone (brass)
    William Trigg: Percarsion (percussion)
    Wilbo Wright: Tank Bass (strings)
    Dave Homan: Convertibles & Tube Flutes (winds)

    You (and your readers, if you wish), can view a video with excerpts from our live performance at the 2005 Philadelphia Live Arts & Fringe Festival in September, 2005. It’s about 8-minutes long and designed for use in our press kit, but it can certainly be viewed and heard by any interested parties. In other words, the promotional message is not overwhelming … It does not present all of our music, but there’s enough there to give one a good idea about what we are like. Here is the URL:


    I just finished watching the video; it seems like one of the best uses for automobiles that I can think of.


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