Sunday, 4/14/02: The Car Alarm Dance

I got a nice letter from an across the street neighbor. She wanted to share some thoughts on how she has learned to deal with Clinton Street motorist mayhem over the years. She included a quote from John Cage, the avant garde composer most famous for his piece entitled 4'33''. All of the notes of 4'33'' are silent. The composition takes its name from the fact that it requires four minutes and thirty-three seconds to perform. When performed in concert, a piano player sits at a bench with a stopwatch and doesn't touch the keys.

Anyway, the Cage quote -- I don't know where it comes from -- is this
: "The most recent change in my attitude toward sound has been in relation to loud sustained sounds such as car alarms or burglar alarms, which used to annoy me, but which I now accept and even enjoy... Sounds which stay in one location and don't change can produce a sonorous sculpture, a sound sculpture that lasts in time. Isn't that beautiful?"

As I often find with avant garde art stuff, yes, the concept is beautiful. But the actual tangible reality of the car alarm "sonic sculpture" -- that's not a piece of art that I'd want in my living room. Nevertheless, I know what my neighbor means. There are all kinds of good ways to sublimate these minor but persistent urban annoyances and turn them into something fun and creative.

As far as car alarms go, my girlfriend Joanne and I have ocassionally played this game we call the Car Alarm Dance. When you're walking down the street and you pass a car with its alarm blasting (for no good reason, as always), you pretend that you are the car alarm and you're the one making the noises. You and your partner can switch off each time the car alarm noise changes so that it's sort of like you're having a dialogue with each other in car alarm language. Maybe you're having a fight with each other. Maybe you're madly in love with each other. Or maybe you're robots. Each individual can interpret the car alarm sounds however he or she wants.

Can you picture what I'm talking about? Basically, the first person stands there and lip-synchs "Whoo Whoo Whoo Whoo Whoo…" and maybe shoots his hands up in the air repeatedly on each "Whoo" like a football ref signaling touchdown. When the noise changes to "Eeep Eeep Eeep Eeep Eeep…" the second person starts lip-synching and adding some unique "Eeep" body movement and facial expressions to go along with it. It's a really great game.

Another fun car alarm game I've played, I guess would be called Car Alarm Conductor. That's when you stand in front of the blaring vehicle and conduct it as though you were conducting a symphony orchestra.

Both of these games make you feel better because they give you the momentary illusion that you're actually in control of the car alarm sounds -- that you're producing the noise. And you also get to jump around and blow off steam instead of just getting all pissed and annoyed and stewing over how inconsiderate people are who actually have these useless alarms in their vehicles. Because, really, do they do anything? Does anyone know of any instance where a car alarm actually did some good?

-- Aaron