“Every time you swipe your MetroCard, the turnstile emits a flat, unpleasant ‘beep’. Each turnstile emits its own beep, all of which are slightly out of tune with one another, creating a dissonant rubbing-styrofoam-on-glass squeak in stations all around New York City. It’s kind of horrible.”
That’s James Murphy, NYC native and the former lead singer of LCD Soundsystem, lamenting the sounds of NYC subways. He’s been running a petition since 2014 to turn the MTA’s turnstiles into pleasant musical instruments. And now, with an influx of marketing from a Heineken campaign, the idea may be gaining momentum. At the very least, you can visit the project’s new, heavily produced landing page, where you can actually toggle between the existing alerts and Murphy’s soothingly sonorific makeover. (Go ahead! I’ll wait.)
Of course, if the demo sounds familiar, it’s because these soothing beeps are similar to the notifications used in Tokyo’s subway system. (James Murphy, a known Japanophile, got the idea while traveling.) But Murphy’s proposal is more grandiose than the chimes and jingles of Tokyo’s subways. He imagines each subway station having its own three- to five-note sequence, with each note activated when you walk through a turnstile.
Alone, this approach would offer a more harmonious experience during your daily commute. But he also imagines the project scaling as a massive, city-wide art project. Lines could combine to make larger musical scores, and at Union Station, where lines cross, people could actually hear the scores come together as a giant symphony.
“The effect would be that at the busiest times, like rush hour, what was once cacophony, would now be music,” he writes on his project site.
But the real appeal of Murphy’s idea is at its most granular level of design. The beeps coming out of subways today are pretty unpleasant–a grind on our ears. Noise pollution can have harmful effects on our psyche. The turnstiles already have speakers. They already emit tones. So why not tune them to make people happy rather than wary? It’s certainly worth a shot.