Concerto for Traffic

Picking my way over Vauxhall Cross with great care, as one must, I had a swift visual intuition that, across the wide chasm of traffic, an elfin man dressed all in white was dancing around hitting the street furniture with sticks. Gaining a place of safety on the opposite bank I peered over to find that my impression was totally true. Someone actually was drumming on a metal surface with great concentration, oblivious to the roaring flow of traffic. As so often I found the ear following the eye; I discovered I could hear him perfectly despite the major ambient noise all around. I became absorbed by his tireless performance. From time-to-time launching into a new rhythmic theme, he would keep it going for several minutes with well-organised variations nevertheless integrated into a whole, before eventually progressing onto a whole new subject and tempo.

Despite the road-navigation problems involved, I felt I must cross over again and meet the unstoppable musician. At closer quarters I was alarmed at first to find that the metal object he was getting such a good pitch out of was the box that controls the traffic lights around the Vauxhall Gyratory System. Luckily it didn’t seem to be touch sensitive – I could see the traffic pouring around in its usual fashion whatever the drum tempo. The drummer’s name is Shane, he comes from Reading where he sometimes plays, and he also often plays on the South Bank (not inside the various culture palaces there , I am guessing). Someone has recorded him on Instagram in four different style ‘albums’ (one being Rave; with the traffic orchestra playing up a notch at that moment I couldn’t quite hear him say what the other ones were.) Instagrammers should look out for these – my iPhone wasn’t up to the task of recording of this very wide sonic landscape.

I was cheered by this temporary victory of man over noise. People living locally to the area (I am one) are perpetually being consulted about the development of this major road system, but once the surveys are done, it always seems we have yet again been granted larger,swifter traffic flows swooping round our living environment 24-hours. I felt inspired by Shane’s joie-de-vivre and lateral thinking in using the traffic as an accompaniment to an improvised percussion concerto. If you see this modest, friendly performer at work, listen out.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer