LA artist Alex Braidwood explores LA's sonic topography

City Sonic

LA is loud. Cars roar, helicopters buzz, waves crash and (occasionally) subways rumble. Instead of muffling the noise out, Alex Braidwood decided to tune in.

Open your windows, take out your earbuds, and turn down your radio (unless, of course, it's on KPCC). What you'll hear is the cacophony of Southern California. Cars whirr by and screech stop on the freeway; helicopters cut and dice the air; subway trains rumble like sleeping giants underground; and water rushes and rolls over sand.

Southern California is a loud place. But one L.A. artist decided to stop muffling the noise – and start tuning in.

"There's a risk of not being able to understand an environment when you disconnect from it," says Alex Braidwood, a designer, media artist and educator who originally hails from the Midwest. "The idea basically came from there wondering how I as a creator could compose the noise that exists around somebody."

To manipulate the sound around him, Braidwood sticks two footlong copper tubes on a pair of professional grade headphones. Next, he attaches rubber stoppers that suction in and out - to add some mechanical rhythm.

Between his long, grey-streaked beard and the resonant tubes that extend majestically towards the sky from a top his head, Braidwood looks like a visitor from Mars.

"I wanted it to be as visual as it was experiential," he says. "I wanted to peak people's curiosity enough that they would be interested in putting it on."

Braidwood is used to getting stares as he roams the Southland in search of new sonic landscapes, sometimes using Google Maps to chart as-yet undiscovered aural lands.

Some of his favorite spots are where nature collides with the city, such as Dockweiler Beach, where the ocean blends with the planes leaving LAX.

Or the spots where the city folds in on itself - like a metro station, on top of a freeway, on top of another freeway, on top of a bus.

"The way that the revving of the engines and the stop and go traffic that was at the same time above us and below us... [it] had a real sort of natural effect on the soundscape."

Sadly, these transformative headphones won't be coming to a store near you. But Braidwood is working on an iPhone app that will add a little sonic sensation to your everyday aural reality.

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