Symphony of Chicago

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I recently discovered the delights of Roman Mars’ radio program 99% Invisible. For those who haven’t had a chance to check it out, it’s a program about design, architecture; basically, it’s about the small or large details that people thought about putting together that one normally misses. For instance, Ladislav Sutnar is the man who put parentheses in telephone area codes when they were introduced.

Anyway, as I make my way through the podcasts, there was one that struck my fancy. It’s about  Arseny Avraamov, a Soviet composer who believed that the city was a symphony. In 1923, he conducted from a Moscow roof with flags. There were factory sirens, cannons, and marches; the noises he knew from the city. He called the piece “Symphony of the Sirens.” However, there was a military parade so most people didn’t even know it was going on. He considered it the music of the future. This 30 minute clip claims to be a version of the work. It is just sounds of the city. I think it is beautiful and inspiring. I love cities and I especially love Chicago.

What got me thinking was that he believed that every city had its own symphony. Which made me wonder, what would the symphony of Chicago sound like?

Well, first and foremost, there would the sounds of the L: the recorded voice of the L train announcing the stops and the rumble of the El tracks over ground. There’d be the sound of construction and ambulance sirens. There’d be the sounds of protests and ethnic parades like the Pakistani and Irish parades. The chatter and slap of feet in Michigan Avenue and State Street would have to be included. Then I’d include the sounds of many religious services in different languages from Ukrainian Village, Pilsen and more. There’d be the tolling of bells in the churches in Ukrainian Village and the sound of bagpipes. There would be the noise of airplanes landing and taking off and maybe the announcements from Metra trains. The cheers and booes of both stadiums would be natural. And some organ music and strains of the blues.

On a somber note, there would have to be gun fire since that is a part of the experience of many Chicagoans.  On a happier note, there’d be the calls of the tamale man, the twinkle of those paleta carts and the Ice Cream Truck jingles. There would be voices of local anchor-people talking about the latest scandals. And there would definitely be people cursing out: Ventra, the parking meters, and the cold. The sound of an open fire hydrant and of course, the howling of the wind in the winter. I’d include the fireworks at Navy Pier and the far away strains of the symphony over the hot summer wind.

And there would have to be someone who pronounces the s in Illinois.

What sounds am I missing from this grand city of ours?


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