For the past 15 years, former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy has been working on a way to make New York City subway turnstiles beep more melodically. “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,” Murphy wrote on his “Subway Symphony” plan website. “It’s kind of horrible.”
Now that the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which runs the city’s subway, has decided to update its system, Murphy is proposing a new melodic approach to subway beeps. The turnstiles currently emit between one to three high-pitched sounds as a notice to the blind on whether they can proceed or need to swipe their MetroCard again.
Murphy says his Subway Symphony is a low-cost plan that would give each turnstile swipe a three-to-five-note sequence that would harmonize with other turnstiles. The producer was inspired to embark on the project after hearing the easygoing sounds of the Tokyo subway and Barcelona airport. The Wall Street Journal posted a streaming clip of how it would sound.
“We really don’t care,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg commented on the Journal’s Murphy story, though he added that the LCD Soundsystem alum’s idea was “very cool.” The problems with implementing Murphy’s plan are both financial and the time it would take to dismantle each of New York’s 3,289 turnstiles to update them “for an art project.” Murphy has countered that since the turnstiles are being updated anyway, it would be easy to install new sound chips during renovations.
The MTA is currently working on a $900,000 a year project to revamp turnstile locations. By 2019, it hopes to update them so that riders could use their phones or electronic chip–enabled cards and keys to pass through turnstiles instead of swiping MetroCards.
Murphy had previously sought a meeting with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss the matter, but never got his foot in Gracie Mansion. He’s hoping he will have better luck with Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio. “If the mayor wanted this to happen, I know there’s someone who could make this work,” Murphy said. (The Journal quoted one of Bloomberg’s deputy mayors who said that the mayor would have no sway over the MTA, since it is a state agency and not a part of the New York City government.)
Murphy has said that if the MTA were to green-light his plan, he would drop everything to make it work. “If it doesn’t happen I’ll be broken-hearted,” he said.