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  • BARTology
  • Matt Volla (bio)

BARTology began as an investigation into the space of public transportation. Every day, geography forced me to ride Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the subway system of the San Francisco Bay Area. I drew maps that documented the paths of every commuter on my car of the train (Fig. 1): the doors from which they entered or exited and the seats they sat in or the places they stood. I drew a bird's-eye view of the car and made four rows of seats that filled the car. Months later a cello player named Hugh Livingston asked me to compose a piece of music for cello and trumpet. When we met for the first time to play, I noticed the four rows of strings on the cello. As Livingston plucked the strings I thought about people walking down the rows of seats and sitting down. Choosing one seat over the other on an empty train was like choosing one note over the other on a long string. I decided to translate the drawings into a musical score for Livingston on cello and me on trumpet to play. It later evolved into a series contained in a book called BARTology.

BARTology is a series of 10 drawings mapping out people's movements on BART at all hours of the day and night in order to capture different types of commuting. Each map has an accompanying sound composition. The maps document where people sit, the doors they enter and exit and at which stops they enter and exit. This information is transposed to music notation using syntax based on the physicality of the train. For example, the seats located at the very front of the train are pitched high; seats located at the back of the train are pitched low. Tempo is based on the time of the day in which the ride takes place: During rush hour the musicians might be instructed to play as fast as they can; for late-night trains they might be instructed to play as though they are drunk. Each train ride is scored for string-and-horn duet; one player "plays" the people that are seated or standing and the other player plays the people that are entering and exiting. The nature of the instrument determines which role each player plays: Strings are generally good for representing seated passengers because they can be plucked to create individual sound events. Horns provide a good long or short sustained tone that creates a trajectory like that of a walking passenger on the way to a BART station. The duets have included: Alicia Byer on bassoon and Honde Erdem on violin; Matt Volla on trumpet and Hugh Livingston on cello; Daniel St. Andre on double bass and Patrice Scanlon on clarinet; and Jen Baker on trombone and Brett Larner on koto.

The movement of people on public

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Fig. 1.

7.11.02, 10:35 PM, 16th Street, San Francisco, to 19th Street, Oakland, pencil on paper, 2002.

© Matt Volla

[End Page 58]

transportation provides an example of the contemporary nomad—or rather, the unnomad. Nomads usually travel on a trajectory of a path in which any reference point is between two lines (the location of the point is undetermined and can be fulfilled by a multiplicity of points), whereas the route of the unnomad is a line in between two points (all entities are constant and immobile). Nomads travel depending on what they need at a particular time. When they need water, they travel toward water. Their travel rarely repeats. The commuter is a good example of the unnomad. The latter's highly repetitive trajectory illustrates the structure of contemporary life. The time of movement is controlled and repeats 5 days a week; the place of movement is controlled and repeats 5 days a week; there is financial control over who can travel; the way in which to travel is controlled. The layers are striated with control and regulation from home, to the train station, to the train, on the train, to work and back again.

Within these layers of striation (rows of passengers, rows of...


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