These days new music is a tough item to sell. Who wants to hear it? Sometimes beautiful, rich textures just don’t cut it for the average listener. We have a lot of that. What should it sound like then? There is just so much variety that everything meshes together and starts to sound similar. We have an endless supply of popular music in various different formats. I don’t want to hear that. I want to hear something that’s never been done before. Robots playing the James Bond Theme song are cool, but I've heard that song before. I always find myself wanting, and drifting towards, music that makes me thing critically.
Over the past couple years no one has caught my attention more than Alexander Chen. Chen works at the Google Creative Lab in Brooklyn, NY. If you don’t know who he is you only have to think back about a year when Google had the Les Paul doodle on their search page and they allowed you to click and record your own songs. You could play chords by typing on your keypad and using your mouse to strum the strings. It was a huge hit. So big that Google kept it live on their page for an extra 24 hours, which is the only time they’ve ever done that. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you can view it here:
He has a few other projects that you can view at his website (http://www.chenalexander.com). Perhaps the most impressive is this one:
This one of a kind project takes the busiest subway system in the world, New York City, and makes it one giant plucked instrument. The system is based on the real time movement of each train. Each subway line is essentially one note and as the lines cross between each other you will hear a “ping” at various pitches. Time is sped up and slowed down at random to get a completely random layer of sound. 20 seconds in to the grid and you get a feel for what’s ahead. Keep it on for 2 hours and you'll be totally hooked
What Chen has done is extremely creative, but what is it really? It's an artist who found inspiration in something and followed through with it. Musicians can draw inspiration from a lot of crazy things. We all struggle so hard to be original that sometimes we forget that all we have to do look around. Maybe the chance to do something new and different will present itself right in front of our eyes or maybe we have to look a little deeper. Taking the MBTA map and making music out of it doesn't seem so original anymore. Right now I’m looking at a guitar, I hear a ticking clock and cars are flying up my street at an ungodly pace. Maybe I can somehow…. Anyway, try not to forget that you can do something like this to. You just look around.