Car Doors (April 17, 2003)

I heard a car door slam shut, and then another and then another. It seems to me too many car doors to be shutting at the moment, but I suppose eight o’clock in the evening is a good time to close a car door. Some cars, of course, have more than one door that may need to be closed, particularly if they have more than one occupant, or just a lone person retrieving an item from the other side of the car, as I often do. Still, it seems like a lot of car doors being shut.

There are supposedly one hundred and fifty million cars in use in the United States at this time. There are approximately thirty-one million seconds in a year. If each car had only one of its doors shut once every year, that would be about five doors being shut per second. A quintuplet at sixty beats per minute. Cars generally have between two and six doors, which subdivides and complicates the rhythm, perhaps a theka that does not land evenly on a quarter-note-based meter. Of course, the number of times each door on each car is shut has such enormous variance that all we are left with is noise. But noise has its own rhythm, a soft steady continuum that swells and ebbs, forming a multitude of short pulses in between stronger beats, waves whose strongest crests occur at mid morning and mid evening. Pulse, beat, meter and form arising from millions of independent actions, happening without their actors aware of one another but nonetheless connected.

I heard a car door slam shut becoming water and the water became music.

John Cage’s 99th Birthday

Today marks the 99th birthday of one of our musical heroes, John Cage.

In this video, we see Cage discussing sound and silence in his apartment on 18th Street in New York. There is a romantic quality to hearing his words, imagining music, and listening to the sounds of the city in the background, all in concert.

Although he is perhaps best known for his experiments in silence, sound and chance elements in music, I am most fond of his work for prepared piano and toy piano. Despite what was adventurous instrumentation at the time, the music itself comes across as traditional piano compositions. They were for a long time part of my rotation of morning music.

This is a good moment to simply stop at listen to the ubiquitous sounds of the urban environment here, including the ever present trains and traffic on I-280.