Traveling is chaos. Can the new ambient music program at LAX help?

The whirlwind of LAX travel calms down when you walk into Orchestrino. At the start of the 1,000-foot corridor connecting the Tom Bradley International terminal’s grand concourse to its west gates, the light dims to a soothing azure. A moving walkway whisks them through the terminal to meet passengers.

Along the way, the music shifts between 30 pieces written in a single key (C major), from well-known artists such as Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, local heroes John Carroll Kirby and Dwight Trible from Leimert Park’s World Stage, and avant-garde LA composers. such as Molly Lewis, Celia Hollander and Sam Gendel.

Finally, an exhibition of works by Helen Pashgian, Larry Bell, and other artists from the Light and Space movement invites travelers to reflect on LA’s sculptural history using industrial materials from the jet age.

«You can see it’s engaging when they press their faces against the glass,» laughed Tim McGowan, LAX’s arts manager, as he showed off the sculptures and sound installation to passing passengers last week.

Orchestrina, a public art installation by major LA radio and events collective Dublab, is part of a new three-year deal for the station to program live music and sound art at LAX. It’s a gentle introduction to LA’s experimental music and art scenes, all before you even hit the customs gate.

Passengers are terrified of the many things that go wrong in the skies these days, from knocked-out doorstops in mid-air to pilots popping mushrooms, Orchestrina is a brief moment of tasteful, sensual calm.

«Dublab has been programming in unconventional places for decades,» said Alejandro Cohen, executive director of Dublab. “Maybe the final frontier is the airport.

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It’s one thing to put on a blissful showcase of ambient music under the canopy at Descanso Gardens (where Dublab recently held a mini-festival where fans were encouraged to take a nap). It’s another thing to pull it off in a place that stands for how deeply your loved ones are sacrificing to pick you up.

In 2022, more than 65 million people will pass through LAX, many on their way to the thousands of shows and festivals that make LA the live music capital of the world. Dublab was invited by LAX Arts Program Director Sarah Cifarelli to build Orchestrina in 2019; after pandemic delays and technology improvements starting in 2021, Orchestrina is formally launched to the public and will remain for at least three years.

People with luggage walk past an art exhibit at LAX.

People walk past an art exhibit focusing on the Light and Space movement at LAX.

(Michael Blackshire/Los Angeles Times)

The exhibit has probably the most underground intrigue of all airport art that doesn’t hide a UFO bunker (as the «Blucifer» horse at the Denver airport is said to be). To build it, Dublab’s Eli Welbourne collaborated with music technology firm Lux Aeterna to combine these 30 original excerpts into an ever-evolving, space-separated single work that draws from composer Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ opus and Brian’s ‘Music for Airports’ Ena. ” like mood boards. The music shifts and follows you down the sidewalk, and you feel like you’re being dragged through the tracking shot of a near-future sci-fi movie.

«That’s absolutely the intention, to offer a brief respite from the hectic feeling,» Welbourne said. «When you enter the installation, go down this long staircase and enter this blue light that completely surrounds you with music and field recordings where you can hear the birds and the wind passing through the grass, you get a really interesting effect.»

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«I think we’re able to help alleviate those moments of stress,» Cifarelli said, «and really create a more humane and pleasant passenger experience.»

There are many events planned for the three years ahead as Dublab strives to create one of the most feared places in the county where you can actually linger and listen. On Wednesday, the station brought in two experimental electronic acts, Ana Roxanne and DJ Python, to perform ambient music as Natural Wonder Beauty Concept for a new series for departing passengers at Terminal 1 at LAX.

«I believe in the power of public art to be able to provide this kind of work to a broad, evolving audience that is constantly passing through,» Welbourne said.

While many commuters would likely appreciate an actual rail connection to LAX along with a tasteful ambient music program, the public art is one piece of an evolving conversation about who benefits from LA Metro’s transit infrastructure, which utilizes locally reflective public art on the K line and new non-police ambassadors to care for riders in need is one attempt to make LA travel more enjoyable for everyone.

Four people ride on a moving walkway under a purple-lit ceiling

LAX Arts Program Director Sarah Cifarelli, left, Guest Curator Laura Whitcomb, LAX Arts Programmer Tim McGowan and Dublab Executive Director Alejandro Cohen on the moving walkway at LAX.

(Michael Blackshire/Los Angeles Times)

«It has to be part of the equation when we plan transportation projects,» Cifarelli said. “We want things that reflect our city, and I think we need to bake in arts programming as part of that. At the end of the day, we’re all just human beings using these public spaces.”

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For Cohen, who has produced concerts and broadcast shows for Angelenos for decades, the LAX deal will be his largest audience yet by an order of magnitude, even if many of those passengers will barely notice.

But that’s part of the point, to show off the city to anyone looking up close, and to make it kinder to anyone passing through.

«These are the things that you kind of live for, work for, and are part of the heart of the city,» Cohen said. «It’s another step to being integrated into the city, being a part of it consciously or unconsciously.»

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