How did I miss this? On Tuesday, students and faculty at the University of Maine in Farmington premiered Philip Carlsen’s “Car Life: A Traffic Jam Session for Automobile Orchestra.” (Enthusiastic article here; skeptical article here.) The ensemble? Forty-five cars spread across three parking lots, conducted with a big red flag by Carlsen’s fellow professor Steven Pane.

Carlsen’s automotive orchestra used subtle and not-so-subtle harmonies, cascading and alternating a cacophony of horns, radios, warning beepers, revving engines, slamming car doors and human voices. It was all part of an eight-page, detailed musical score that had drivers keeping one hand on the wheel and the other on the radio dial, ignition key or door handle, anxious to honk their horn at the requisite times and blast WKTJ or WUMF at just the right moment.

Carlsen himself missed the spectacle, laid up with a bad back, which just means that there’ll have to be a repeat performance. I can’t wait.

(Appropriately tangential tribute: the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, car salesman.)


  1. There is actually a fairly large repertoire of works featuring automotive ensembles. I heard one work, of symphonioc dimensions, composer’s name forgotten, at CalArts during New Music America in 1985. The first piece in the genre might well be Robert Moran’s <>39 MINUTES FOR 39 AUTOS, Moran’s first composition for an entire city;premiered on Twin Peaks, San Francisco, August 1969, for 39 autos horns,synthesizers, 2 radio stations, 1 tv station, 30 skyscrapers, 6 airplanes,performing ensembles including dance and choral groups, throughout theentire city,and incorporating over 100,000 participants; originallypublished in SOURCE.<>

  2. < HREF="http://maltedmedia.com/people/bathory/" REL="nofollow">Dennis Bathory-Kitsz<> also has a pair of < HREF="http://maltedmedia.com/people/bathory/cat-performance.html#car1" REL="nofollow">car pieces<>.If this doesn’t go to show that it’s all been done before…

  3. That does it, I’m spending the summer looking for grant money to fund an automobile philharmonic. Having been in enough groups that <>should<> have had emissions standards, it’ll be nice to start one that’s <>legally required<> to have emissions standards.

  4. Stirling Moss, the great british race driver once said that a symphony could be made of the the many wonderful sounds that race cars made.I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I’ve always been fascinated by the sounds and combinations of sounde created by automobiles and thier reactions with wind, rain and the pavement, and I did write a piece based on the sounds and rythms of internal combustion engines. But, as far as I’m concerned, if it dosn’t have strings it’s not a symphonyOne can’t forget Anteil’s Ballet Mechanique no matter how hard one tries.

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