The Subway Sings Somewhere

Today’s song is The Subway Sings Somewhere, the latest addition to my new genre of music, “electromonica.” Although this is probably closer to “industromonica.”

New York City’s newer computerized subway cars, first introduced about five years ago, have a new kind of power transformer that, when the train starts up, makes a series of tones that sound very musical, with which this song opens. People identify them most often as the opening notes to “Somewhere,” from West Side Story.

Every few years, The New York Times notices this, and runs a bunch of articles, most recently a front-page column by the normally more enterprising Jim Dwyer. They’ve been writing about this at least since 2002 but I guess he didn’t bother to read back.

Anyway, this seemed like a good excuse for a song. (In February, everything is a good excuse for a song.) If you can call this a song. It’s mostly made up of sounds I recorded in the subway yesterday, mixed with some loops and heavily treated harmonica. Most of the rhythm bed is looped track noise. I’m having fun and doing a lot of experimentation this year for FAWM, and while I’m not exactly sure this works, I very much enjoyed doing it. A video may be along to accompany it later in the week.

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7 Responses to The Subway Sings Somewhere

  1. First of all, it’s great that you’re experimenting. You should keep it up. I like this electromonica.

    I thought I knew West Side Story pretty well, but I don’t hear “Somewhere” in those notes.

    It was definitely not the same, boring whirr of the older trains, which starts low and slowly builds to a resounding high note, like a bad Jennifer Holliday impersonator

    There’s a song on Moby’s 18 that starts out with a noise that always reminded me of that ‘boring whirr.’ “Extreme Ways.” But my imagination is probably running away with me.

    • ken says:

      I actually just updated the sound file to make some edits. It’s way too easy to overwrite tracks in GarageBand so I had to put back a couple I lost, including some door-close chimes which the song really can’t do without.

      I’m not sure how you can’t hear “Somewhere” — I spent a lot of time making sure I had the pitches right on the keyboard and while the tones are not quite true, the intervals are almost exactly right. On the harp I’m playing F# up to an E and then down to a D#. Those are the exact intervals of the first three notes of “Somewhere.”

      • Ken, I don’t get this! The subway tones are all three of them ascending. “Somewhere” ascends from note 1 to note 2 and then descends to note 3.

        • ken says:

          There are three tones in the subway clip. The first one is roughly an F# and lasts about one second. The second is a high E, a minor seventh above the first, and also lasts about one second. The third is a D#, a half step below the second. I think the problem is that there is a second tone that sounds like it’s an octave above the primary tone, which might make it sound like it keeps going up. But the intervals are the same and if you listen you will hear the primary tone continuing even after that secondary high tone comes in. (It actually starts during the second note, but since the jump is so big you don’t notice it as much.)

          The West Side Story clip goes on a little longer, and actually has two additional notes that follow the first three. But the first three are the same intervals and even similar in timing.

          • I think the problem is that there is a second tone that sounds like it’s an octave above the primary tone, which might make it sound like it keeps going up.

            Exactly. To me, I only hear the tone that is an octave above. Before you isolated just those three subway notes, I didn’t understand what people were talking about. I heard three notes which all sounded ascending to me, thought “That can’t be it,” kept listening and heard more stuff, got confused.

            I never would have thought “Somewhere” on my own based on those subway noises. Maybe that octave-above doesn’t happen all the time?

  2. Anonymous says:

    The A Train

    I’ve often thought that the MTA should license the first few notes of “Take The A Train” for, of course, the A train.

    Likewise, for 42nd street the doors could be programmed to play a few notes from that song (“…on the avenue I’m taking you to, 42nd street.”)

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