What Does Miami Sound Like?

Feb 2, 2017

What is the sound of Miami?

Is it this?

What about this?

Or this?

As part of a project 305,  the New World Symphony is asking residents to send in sound and video of what Miami is to them. The idea is to use those submissions to build a symphony for, to and from Miami, maybe with a little bit of love.

Helen Hess is a second year viola fellow at the New World Symphony, the orchestral academy on Miami Beach. And while reading music is a big part of her daily life, she says there’s so many other sounds that build the symphony of a day on Miami Beach.

“Walking down Lincoln Mall Road… you have people speaking many different languages, you have the hostesses and people from different shops trying to entice people in, you have the sounds from those different shops blending one to the other,” said Hess. “There are a lot of percussive sounds of jackhammers and trucks moving the whooshing and, of course, a lot of the sirens.”

Project 305 might use some of these kinds of sounds to build an orchestral work for Miami; a piece she will perform in.

“It's so easy to get so caught up in what you're doing and where you're going and your own thoughts and you don't really think about the sounds around you,” said Hess. “Hopefully [this project will] get people outside of their own thoughts and really thinking about the sounds around them.”

The New World Symphony is asking people from all over Miami to submit their sound and video clips using the Project 305 app or website. There, the public can see what and where people are submitting.

Some material will just provide inspiration for the work--both the musical composition and a video installation that will accompany it—but some of what people submit might become part of the actual work.

And ode to Miami.

A parallel Hess thought of when she learned about the project was Steve Reich’s “Different Trains.” The piece uses recorded sounds echoed by a string quartet, an interplay between the live instruments and the sound bites.

“I'm really interested in--in terms of sound—are… people's voices,” said Ted Hearn, the composer tasked with taking all the submissions that come in between now and May 12 and making something musical with it.

He’ll be working alongside a filmmaker to make the accompanying visuals. They’ll be going out and interviewing people and hosting pop-up recording sessions.

“I feel like part of this project is to amplify the voices of the community,” said Hearne. “But then also just the pure sounds of what these these interviews would sound like: people's cadences.”

He points to a different Steve Reich composition as a possible example of how they might use submissions: a seminal 1965 piece called “It’s Gonna Rain.”

“It sounds like a preacher on the street and then you hear it transform to something that is where the meaning of the language completely dissolves and it turns into a sonic object,” said Hearne.

And while he’s reluctant to say too much about what the piece could become before seeing all the submissions, he says certain themes are just inevitable: “Miami’s unique heritage as a city of immigrants and also to too sort of paint it as like the quintessential American city in that way.”

Miami: A city where the people and landscape and skyline are constantly changing, moving, and leaving bits of the past behind. One of the titles they’re already thinking of for the work is: “Miami in Movements”

“What would be really cool to do is take a like a drive down one of these roads that goes through so many different communities that have been subject to so many different types of changes and sort of make a sonic map and see what can come out musically that makes any type of sense,” said Hearne.

And there’s another kind of movement this piece will span: inside and outside of the concert hall. Project 305 hopes to bring people into the symphony—if only just through their submissions—and the symphony out into the community.

“I hope for me personally that it does take me to some places farther away from South Beach in Miami some different neighborhoods that I haven't been to thus far,” said Helen Hess. “So yeah, really excited about that.”

Submissions have already to come in: an acrobat at Santa’s Enchanted Forest; the wake from a cruise ship leaving the Port of Miami; and dolphins swimming at dawn along Biscayne Bay.

The people who send stuff in they’re already becoming a kind of community of composers.