Orchestra of 100 cars

Cars gathered on the roof of a parking lot across the street from Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Hall to perform A (For 100 Cars), a composition by Ryoji Ikeda. Mr Edwin Hammond Meredith's 1978 Cadillac DeVille overheated during the performance and had to
Cars gathered on the roof of a parking lot across the street from Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Hall to perform A (For 100 Cars), a composition by Ryoji Ikeda.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Cars gathered on the roof of a parking lot across the street from Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Hall to perform A (For 100 Cars), a composition by Ryoji Ikeda. Mr Edwin Hammond Meredith's 1978 Cadillac DeVille overheated during the performance and had to
Mr Edwin Hammond Meredith's 1978 Cadillac DeVille overheated during the performance and had to be cooled with water.PHOTO: NYTIMES

In a public sound art installation, 100 cars make music with stereo systems, horns and engines

LOS ANGELES •There were multiple options for experiencing A (For 100 Cars), a new composition by Japanese sound artist Ryoji Ikeda that had its premiere here on a recent Sunday afternoon.

You could look and see 100 tricked-out cars arranged in a phalanx on the roof of a parking lot across the street from Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Hall, many with their doors open and angled up to the sky.

You could listen to the sometimes sharp, sometimes guttural tones that were pealing from their speakers, each a variation on the standard tuning of the note A.

Or you could close your eyes and feel how the music pushed against the ears, the head, the skin, throbbing and droning and crashing.

A public sound art installation made possible through corporate largesse - the performance was part of the first Los Angeles edition of the Red Bull Music Academy festival - it turned negative space in the centre of downtown Los Angeles into a sublime womb.

All around, tall buildings loomed, while on the performance stage, 100 cars worked through what felt like a meditation.

Ikeda's composition juxtaposed precision and imprecision: 440Hz is the current tuning standard for A, but that was not always the case. Each car here was paired with a historical tuning, with frequencies ranging from 376.3Hz to 506.9Hz. Also, though this composition could have been performed cleanly by computer, it instead relied on amateur performers - the drivers who, in this case, were also the musicians.

Each had a pocket-size synthesizer programmed to one specific frequency and a dedicated score instructing him or her how to manipulate the knobs at various points in the 27-minute piece.

"It's impossible to follow, exactly, the timing," Ikeda said after the performance. But he added: "All the drivers were so serious. I was kind of underestimating them."

Influential photographer Estevan Oriol was in the front row with his lovingly-detailed 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS lowrider.

"I'm trying to expand our car culture," he said. "The lowrider community for the most part only do lowrider community-related stuff. I never even heard of anything like this."

Among the 100 cars, the lowriders stood out for their candy-bright paint.

But plenty of unassuming vehicles with astonishing sound systems participated as well.

"Some cars look normal, but inside is like a weapon," Ikeda said.

"If you got a 4 kilowatt sound system and you're playing 55 Hz at 120 decibels, physically, it's a real kind of experience," said Mr Tatsuya Takahashi, who built the synthesizers.

"What the driver is feeling in the driver's seat is very different from what the audience hears."

Ikeda's composition was not limited to the stereo systems; it also took advantage of the cars' headlights, horns and roaring engines.

Though, in the case of one car, the revving proved to be too much.

Just as the performance was coming to a close, Mr Edwin Hammond Meredith's 1978 Cadillac DeVille began billowing out smoke from under its hood. Other drivers and mechanics rushed to help, some pouring bottles of water down the side of the car to keep things cool.

The acrid scent spread through the air, making this a concert you could hear, see, feel and also smell.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline 'Orchestra of 100 cars'. Print Edition | Subscribe