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'Music For Train Stations' takes over LA's Union Station Fridays in March

by Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp

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Alejandro Cohen, director of music collective and online radio station Dublab, plays music at Union Station for the "Music for Train Stations" series. Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

If you haven't been to Los Angeles' Union Station, it's a beautiful but hectic place: Each day over 100,000 people pass through its art deco halls to board buses, trains and taxis. And there's probably no busier time than a late Friday afternoon.

What better time could there be to put on some music?

Los Angeles's Metro Transit Authority has partnered with the music collective Dublab to install speakers in every corner of the station's waiting room. It's called "Music for Train Stations," a series of music installations blending live and recorded ambient music with the aim to give L.A.'s commuters a rare moment of tranquility in the rush.

It's happening every Friday this month, starting with a public listening to the album that inspired the series: "Ambient 1, Music for Airports," Brian Eno's classic, pioneering ambient record, which was first installed at LaGuardia Airport in 1979.

Video: Music for Airports

Alejandro Cohen, the director of the music collective and online radio station Dublab, said the aim is to shoehorn some joy into Angelenos' daily commute.

"The idea is to offer that glimpse of inspiration during peoples' busy schedules," he says. "Traveling, meeting deadlines, getting to places on time can be, obviously, stressful for everyone." 

When he composed "Music for Airports," Eno said in the liner notes that the music "must be as ignorable as it is interesting." In that tradition, Dublab and Cohen's sound installation surrounds the hall with speakers but doesn't command passengers' attention. To wit: during live performances, Cohen and Dublab set musicians off to the side and out of the way.

"The idea wasn't to blast music from one source and just point from one corner towards the rest of the building but have everything at a lower level, but a much more involved experience. And really it make it at the same time invisible," said Cohen. "If you want, you can just walk around, not really be sure where this is coming from."

Mixing and musical equipment lines the wall at L.A.'s Union Station waiting room.
Mixing and musical equipment lines the wall at L.A.'s Union Station waiting room. Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

Passengers responded in kind: some sat with earbuds on, gladly ignoring it, some talked with friends. Sean Constant, on his way to Camarillo, sat near a window and listened.

"I was just texting a friend of mine about it," he said. "I think a couple weeks ago we saw some cops tackle somebody in here. Peoples' blood pressure was high, and everybody was yelling and stuff. This is the calmest I've actually felt at Union Station, I think, ever."

A flyer for Metro's "Music for Train Stations" series.
A flyer for Metro's "Music for Train Stations" series. Metro

Tyrone Cain lives in the San Fernando Valley and commutes through Union Station five days a week. Sitting in the ticketing hall, he compared the music to the work of Yanni

"The music adds a different atmosphere to it, a plus," he says. "It helps relax you. In fact, I have to be conscious of not going to sleep!"

Music for Train Stations takes place every Friday afternoon in March from 3pm to 6pm at Union Station. March 11's event will feature a DJ set by Richard Cartier and a live performance by Los Angeles duo Electric Sound Bath.

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