15 November 2005

What art and public disturbance have in common



Like other places, people in Beirut honk to say hi or to warn of an impending crash or to tell someone to get out of the way. Most other countries leave it at that, but locals here have done quite a bit to expand the honk’s potential. In addition to the foregoing "international" messages, people here honk at intersections with low visibility just to make sure that others are aware of them. Taxi drivers do it to let you know that they’ve got a vacancy in their cab just in case you want a ride. So there are two new uses: siren to warn of your approach and as advertisement for your services.


Now for another use of the car horn:
What you see here is a rhythm. If you aren’t any good at counting out rhythm, find someone who is and have them clap this out for you—or have them sing it. Better yet, have someone honk their horn to this rhythm for the rest of the day. That’s what I have been listening to for the last 10 months. For at least that long, honking has also become a political statement.

This is the rhythm of the words (in Lebanese Arabic) "Freedom! Sovereignty! Independence!" which was the mantra of the Independence 05 push that happened in the wake of the Hariri assassination.

At busy times of day I have a cacophonous chorus of this rhythm played out by a dozen or more foul-pitched car horns going on right outside my door.

Art and car horns have something in common. Both can be used to further political aims, but neither is very effective. Further similarities? Public art and car horns can both be very annoying to those who would rather not have to endure someone else’s idea of self-expression. Over the last 10 months I’ve tried to think of the honking as some kind of performance/activist art in the hopes that it would annoy me less. It hasn’t worked.

6 comments:

Kate said...

Activist art... it would be great if those honking their horns looked at their actions as a performance or activist art. I wonder if they did would in increase or decrease the amount of 'road rage.'

Anonymous said...

This is a great post and so true. I am so pleased that you were able to work this phenomenon into Impart Art ....

-Amy

Mary Ann said...

I know it doesn't reflect well on my musicanship, but it took me quite a while to transpose that rhythm.

Kate, I think the world would generally be a better place to be if people thought more about little decisions. I'm enough of an art snob that I would have more respect for the honkers if I thought they were doing more than band-wagoning, but after months of consideration, I think they are pretty much just bandwagoning, so there it is.

d.g. said...

I’m sure it must be downright horrendous after about an hours worth, but all the same I'm now having visions of not simply competing horns, but a coherent ‘drum circle’ of interlocked rhythms played out by cars as they pass through an intersection — each car adding a unique element as it approaches, then removing it as it leaves, a giant jam session where the musicians step in and out but the song keeps on going and evolving. It makes me want to try an experiment. if I get three or four buddies at a busy intersection “playing” something, will other people join in? How long will it last? How long will it take nearby residents to call the police?

katperkins said...

I can't believe you've put up with that for 10 months without saying sooner. I think horns should be reserved for making people feel stupid for bad driving. Everything else is confusing. DJ has the tendency to just lay on his horn for a minute or so at a time just to see what people do. He especially likes doing this when I'm driving so people think it's me.

Mary Ann said...

d.g., you almost had me going there for a minute. You stage the happening, and I'll write a critical response to it.