Traffic Jam Makes Music From Art Basel Gridlock

Art Basel begins tomorrow, and that means traffic in this city is about to go absolutely nuts. But don’t worry — even if an extra 150,000 cars a day will try to cross the MacArthur Causeway, Austin musician Steve Parker has an art project that will let you make music out of the vehicular tumult.

Presented by MDC Live Arts, Steve Parker’s Traffic Jam is a series of publicly performed and highly unconventional music-makings that will let you turn the havoc of Basel traffic into a melody all your own. Running today through Saturday, the performance series will feature a fleet of amplified bicycles, a chorus of 1.5 million bats, a make-out car, and even a participatory automobile choir where you can honk your car horn hoarse.

But lest you think Parker’s purpose is mere chaos, he says his acts of automotive audio whimsy are aimed at "finding the hidden and invisible melody at the center of things. I want to help people look at place in a new way, helping them to perceive sound differently."

Parker takes much of his inspiration for the event from famous modernist composer John Cage: “It’s Cage-y in the sense that it breaks down notions of what is music, what is musical, and what is a musical instrument.” After an hour stuck on I-395 trying to get to the Beach, you might need all the musical deconstruction you can get.
So what’s going down? Composers Robert Blatt and Jorge Gómez will orchestrate site-specific works for skateboarding ukulele players, car stereos, and electric car windows, and music collective Kunstwaffen 1916 will perform on a quartet of musical bicycles.

The itinerant sonic happenings ambulating around the city will culminate Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Miami Dade College parking lot on Biscayne Boulevard. Local do-gooders from Emerge Miami will be there to curate an interactive automobile exhibit (featuring a make-out car!) that will challenge the way people in Miami think about their transportation. Manita Brug-Chmielenska and Randy Burman will play on a large-scale, interactive xylophone made from automobile parts, and students from Guitars Over Guns will showcase new works on car stereos made from sampled car sounds and field recordings. 

The event’s crescendo will be a participatory, hands-on orchestra, a sort of flash mob for cars, where drivers can engage in the music-making simply by signing up.

If you wish to participate in the pop-up performances happening around the city or attend a workshop on converting bicycles into musical instruments led by Steve Parker himself, all you need to do is attend a free MDC Live Arts Lab Chat either today at noon or tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.

Don’t expect the hidden message behind the gridlock to suddenly become clear, though. Parker says, “I want people to be a bit confused. I really like things that are strangely beautiful.”

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