The Austin Artist Turning Traffic Into Music

Is there any beauty in this commuting nightmare?

By Luke QuintonJune 5, 2015 9:18 am

If there’s one thing all Texans can agree on: Traffic. Is. The worst.

Houston, San Antonio or Dallas – rush hour is wall to concrete wall of cars. Elsewhere, it’s construction or big trucks clogging lanes. But is there any beauty in this commuting nightmare? Some Austin artists think so. They came together recently to turn that harsh sound of car horns into sound art.

Steve Parker is a trombonist and a curator of strange art music projects. He likes bringing music to unconventional spaces – like this concrete lot of a drive in movie theatre in east Austin. He also likes tackling issues people care about. So what’s the issue here?

“The issue? Ah, traffic in Austin is horrible … it’s the bane of most residents’ existence, there also are no concrete plans in place for a solution,” Parker says. “This is also an attempt to repurpose a perceived negative in a positive way.”

And that’s why a couple hundred people are here on lawn chairs in this parking lot before dusk. The adults are drinking beer while the kids play games next to 40 cars arranged in a semi-circle. Bill Rivera brought his friends Marga Gonzales and Elsa Marti from Houston.

What do they expect to hear? “

“A lot of honks?…I honestly don’t know what to expect,” Marti says.

It’s a performance for ensemble of automobile car horns, bicycles, a piano car … trombone choir equipped with pedicabs, and fixed media works for car stereos and drive-in speakers. Karen Nafe is one of the musicians.

“I am going to be honking the horn, we have a piece of music, um, all the different cars have, there’s about 14-15 pieces that tell us when to honk, when to do our hazard lights, and when to the windshield wipers,” Nafe says. “It’s not too bad, we just have to keep up with the timing.”

The timing is marked out by composers like Steve Snowden. But not just car horns and lights… also mobile instruments… like trombones on a pedicab. And line upon line of percussionists on bicycles. And composer Travis Weller’s on a bike with an FM transmitter.

So, what does a piece of music for 40 car horns sound like?

Loud. Very Loud.