When was the last time you heard music in an elevator? Was it any good?
For a limited time, an elevator in a loft building in North Chinatown is featuring sound art that promises to be “Really Good Elevator Music.”
Sound artist and radio producer Yowei Shaw commissioned six artists to create short audio tracks, forming a playlist on a constant loop in the elevator of the Wolf Building at 12th and Callowhill.
“The idea of really good elevator music, it’s kind of an oxymoron,” said Shaw. “It tickled a lot of people.”
The term “elevator music” has suffered for most of the 20th century. Often perceived as bland, listless, and annoying, the softly canned music has lately been rejected by elevators, themselves. You’d be hard-pressed to find piped-in music in elevators these days.
Shaw wants to elevate elevator music. Through the Asian Arts Initiative’s Social Practices Lab, she assembled a playlist with tracks featuring fragments of voices from a nearby homeless shelter, an off-pitch chorus of local schoolchildren, electronic soundscapes, and an experimental trombone.
In short — it’s a quick, weird trip in a very small box.
“I thought, ‘community building, everyone can get behind that!'” said Shaw, hoping people will connect with fellow passengers over the unusual sounds emanating around them.
Reaction: Ups and downs
“Some people like it,” she said. “I got an email from a resident who lives here asking when is it going to end, because this is his right — this moment of silence before he goes out into the city.”
One of the contributors is Stephen Dufala, an artist who makes little musical sketches when he needs a mental break from drawing. His studio at 319 North 11th Street (aka the Vox Building) has at the ready a piano, guitars, percussion, and anything he might need to blurt out a quick composition.
Over the years, he has stockpiled almost 200 tracks of instrumental doodads. “I call them sketchbooks, because that’s how they felt,” said Dufala.
He thought an elevator would be the perfect venue for them.
“Maybe there’s a little hook, you get it stuck in your brain and you’re humming it as you keep going,” said Dufala. “You don’t remember where it came from. That context is really interesting.”
Dufala was a founding member of the experimental band Man Man. He left after two records, when making music and touring started feeling like a grind. He is now one-half of the successful artistic team The Dufala Brothers, so he doesn’t need to take music seriously — it’s something done strictly for pleasure.
“It took years for it to be fun again,” said Dufala. “Now it’s fun again. I’m not prepared to compromise that.”
Aside from burning CDs for friends, Dufala has never released this music. You can hear a sample if you step into the elevator of the Wolf Building, or click the orange playback button at the top of this page.