A 100-Car Army of Sound in Los Angeles

A 100-Car Army of Sound in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES — There were multiple options for experiencing “A (for 100 Cars),” a new composition by Ryoji Ikeda that had its premiere here late Sunday afternoon.

CreditAndrew White for The New York Times

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.

CreditAndrew White for The New York Times

“A (for 100 Cars)” was, by turns, a placid deliberation, a thunderous roar, an ambitious lark. A public sound art installation made possible through corporate largess — the performance was part of the first Los Angeles edition of the Red Bull Music Academy festival — it turned negative space in the center 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.

The photographer Estevan Oriol, right.CreditAndrew White for The New York Times

Mr. Ikeda’s composition juxtaposed precision and imprecision: 440Hz is the current tuning standard for A, but that wasn’t 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 many cases were the creative and technical architects of their cars, but 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.

CreditAndrew White for The New York Times

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

The 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.”

CreditAndrew White for The New York Times

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,” Mr. Ikeda said.

Jesse Garcia, a member of the Pegasus Car Club, in his Lincoln.CreditAndrew White for The New York Times
CreditAndrew White for The New York Times

Even the most vibrant speaker systems were tested by Mr. Ikeda’s bulbous tones, which pushed their speakers in directions they’d not previously gone. “Each frequency coming though my speakers, I’d never heard,” said Jasond Moody, behind the wheel of his supercharged 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS. (Each driver was outfitted with huge headphones.) “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 Tatsuya Takahashi, who built the synthesizers. “What the driver is feeling in the driver’s seat is very different than what the audience hears.”

CreditAndrew White for The New York Times

Mr. Ikeda’s composition wasn’t 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, Edwin Hammond Meredith’s 1978 Cadillac DeVille began billowing out smoke from under its hood: Clamps securing a hose to the radiator had blown off.

CreditAndrew White for The New York Times

Other drivers and mechanics rushed to help, some pouring bottles of water down the side of the car to keep things cool. Like the sound bath that had just finished, the acrid scent spread through the air with slow determination, making this a concert you could hear, see, feel and also smell.

CreditAndrew White for The New York Times

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