A New York artist with a flair for disruption sounds car horns for 5 minutes in LA traffic (video)

Zefrey Throwell composed a symphony in five parts for 1,000 car horns and passed them out to motorist musicians across the city to play in traffic, in parking lots and from the mountaintops.
Zefrey Throwell composed a symphony in five parts for 1,000 car horns and passed them out to motorist musicians across the city to play in traffic, in parking lots and from the mountaintops. Grant Slater/KPCC

A car horn is designed to inspire alarm, panic, fear of imminent death. So what kind of person hears a honk and thinks of a symphony?

Zefrey Throwell, New York artist and "professional troublemaker, from the more traditional end of painting to the large-scale social unrest."

Meaning public performance art. Throwell has crawled on his belly through the streets of downtown Manhattan and recruited performers to strip naked in the middle of Wall Street.

Right now, he’s at work on a globe-trotting composition he calls "Entropy Symphony."

In the first movement, Throwell and about 75 friends descended on the Whitney Museum in New York to play on the anxieties of security guards. The musicians wrestled in galleries, stripped naked in stairwells and swiped a painting.

And in the second movement, about 100 musicians fanned out across the city with air horns conjuring up memories of air raid sirens in World War II.

"I try to craft each symphony or each movement in the symphony specifically to that town," Throwell explained. "Los Angeles lives on the automobile. The sound of Los Angeles is the car horn."

Throwell arranged the third movement for five voices. This week, he e-mailed musician volunteers an MP3 based on the pitch of their car horns.

As the sun set yesterday, Throwell parked his rented Chevy Malibu (it’s a soprano) on a hilltop near Dodger Stadium, cued up his MP3 and waited.

"Sitting in your car, in traffic, is generally an isolating experience," says Throwell. "There’s the feeling that it’s you, in your world, that you’ve created, you’ve bought. This symphony really aims to kind of break that open a bit. By turning that into something beautiful, where in that limbo you are participating on a large scale with hundreds and hundreds of people around you."

Shamim Momin directs Los Angeles Nomadic Division, the group that sponsored the symphony. She came down with a case of honker’s guilt in stop-and-go traffic in Atwater Village.

"I’m missing it," she says, anxiously, sitting in the middle of rush hour. "I’ve got to pause it. I can’t honk at these people in front of me the whole time."

A marketing consultant in Westwood in a parking garage had a run-in with building security.

A group of three cars at an art gallery in West Hollywood honked carefree.

Herbert and Lenore Schorr pointed their car at the ocean in Marina Del Rey and honked until the police came.

"Some lady got all excited by all the horns, saying we’re disturbing the peace," said Schorr. "There’s a thousand people living here. [They said] we've been playing for 15 minutes, which is not true. It’s been only two minutes when she came over. There was a policeman here for some reason and told us to stop. So we stopped."

Throwell says the fourth movement of his symphony will stretch from the northern tip of Finland all the way south to Helsinki — but only if he can get through traffic to LAX on his way out of town.

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