Life & Style

October 18, 2017

In LA, 100 Cars Create the World’s Largest Synth Orchestra

For Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda's immersive audio-visual installation

  • Written by Emily Manning

You know the saying: nobody walks in LA (there’s a song and a movie about it). Cars are a way of life in Southern California. So, naturally, some of the world’s coolest whips (and most enthusiastic car owners) live and drive in LA.

Since the mid ’90s, Japanese sound artist Ryoji Ikeda has created immersive audio-visual installations at iconic, if unorthodox, institutions (The Metropolitan Museum, Park Avenue Armory, and, briefly, JFK Airport’s Terminal 5). For the Red Bull Music Academy Festival Los Angeles, Ikeda teamed up with 100 SoCal car owners to create the world’s largest synth orchestra.

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Photography Carlo Cruz / Red Bull Content Pool

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Photography Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Content Pool

The piece, titled A [for 100 cars], continues the artist’s explorations and interrogations of note A. These days, the commonly accepted tuning standard for A is 440Hz. But it wasn’t always this way; there have been many frequency adjustments over centuries. Each car was assigned a super-specific A frequency, for example, one souped-up Cadillac SUV played 457.2 Hz, A’s defined frequency in 1879.

The orchestra took place in a parking garage across the street from the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the LA Philharmonic. Audience members sat in three sets of bleachers on the garage’s highest tier overlooking the cars, positioned on a lower parking tier.

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Photography Drew Gurian / Red Bull Content Pool

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Photography Drew Gurian / Red Bull Content Pool

As the sun set, a deep blue dusk fell. Each car opened its doors and flickered its lights, as the owners adjusted their sound systems using a device engineered by RBMA’s Tatsuya Takahashi. All together, the A notes sounded a bit like what you might expect to hear when UFOs land, but more peaceful, almost like a field of humming June bugs.

Ikeda selected the cars for their sound systems, so there was a real range of vehicles. Some looked straight out of The Fast & The Furious — Japanese models outfitted for fast-lane drifting. Others featured intricate airbrush designs, and spotless chrome custom details. Still others were rather ordinary-looking from (the outside): sensible sedans or standard SUVs. And, as you might expect, some were lowriders — customised classic American cars that are themselves works of art.

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Photography Carlo Cruz / Red Bull Content Pool

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Photography Drew Gurian / Red Bull Content Pool

Lowriding is a dynamic local culture in LA, dating back to the late 1940s. Models like Chevy Impalas and Corvettes, or Lincoln Continentals and Town Cars feature altered hydraulic suspension systems, so that the cars seem to glide along the pavement. Before these kinds of cars were standard fixtures of hip-hop videos, they cruised along Whittier and Van Nuys Boulevards. Lowriding originated on the East Side, the historic hub of the city’s vibrant Hispanic, Chicanx, and Latinx communities.

It’s a tradition still very much alive in today’s LA, where lowriding car clubs often stage expositions, or side shows. Many of the models in A [for 100 cars] belong to car club owners, and Ikeda considers the piece a collaborative effort with the drivers. Seeing the orchestra in real life was amazing: it felt like a forward-thinking celebration of many facets of LA car culture, and by extension, the city itself.

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Photography Drew Gurian / Red Bull Content Pool

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Main image: Photography Drew Gurian / Red Bull Content Pool

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