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James Murphy's Musical Turnstile Gets Tested at the Lowline Lab

A new video shows how the LCD Soundsystem frontman’s ‘Subway Symphony’ would sound

Lowline Lab in 2015
Max Touhey for Curbed

Once upon a time, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy proposed a rather whimsical addition to the New York City subway system. Dubbed Subway Symphony, the idea was to change the tone that each turnstile makes when a MetroCard is swiped to something more pleasant; at the time, he described it as "a series of 3 to 5 note sequences, all unique, one for each station in the subway system … part of an intersecting larger piece of music, which would run from station to station."

Sounds cool, right? (If a bit impractical and, let’s face it, totally unnecessary.) The MTA didn’t think so; the agency rebuffed Murphy’s idea, telling Gothamist last year that the tones sound the way they do to assist visually-impaired customers, and that "we won't mess with them—much less take turnstiles out of service and risk disabling them for an art project." Which, fair enough!

But Murphy found a different NYC institution to pair up with to make his Subway Symphony a reality: The Lowline, whose creators are still welcoming visitors to its park facsimile in one of the old Essex Street Market buildings. A prototype of Murphy’s turnstiles is in place there, and a new video created by Swedish director Petter Ringbom and hosted by "global video channel" shows how it works in situ. (h/t Gothamist) The video, narrated by Murphy’s LCD bandmate Nancy Whang, positions the project as "a sonic redesign" of the traditional subway noise. As for the new one, it’s … fine? The noises are pleasant, sure; but perhaps not worth the hullabaloo that’s been made of it.

The video also serves as an introduction to the Lowline (not that it really needs one), which would bring an subterranean green space to an abandoned trolley stop beneath Delancey Street. Of course, the proposed underground park is still just that: a proposal. The city issued its own RFP for the space below Delancey Street last year, so who knows what will end up happening.