This past July, I attended the The Guild of American Luthiers’ Twentieth National Convention/Exhibition in Tacoma, Washington. Beyond learning a plethora of new and interesting information, I discovered something very simple that I keep thinking about. The convention was held on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University (for that week it became Pacific Luthier University), and what I noticed had to do with the campus itself and not the convention. The campus was paved with musical bricks. The concept is amazingly obvious. The bricks are differently sized and hollowed so that when a stone is skipped across them they become musical. My inner dork was amused!
I was reminded of hearing about the “musical road” that was built on Avenue K in Lancaster, California that plays the finale to the “William Tell Overture”, and decided to investigate a little further into musical paving. As it turned out, the first known musical road, called the Asphaltophone, was created in October 1995 in Gylling, Østjylland, Denmark. The Asphaltophone is made from a series of raised pavement markers, similar to Botts’ dots (Botts’ dots are used to mark lanes on certain highways and high-capacity urban roads in the United States and many other countries. They provide tactile feedback to drivers when they move across designated travel lanes, and are analogous to rumble strips), spaced out at intermittent intervals so that as a vehicle drives over the markers, the vibrations caused by the wheels can be heard inside the car. Around the same time in Japan, there was a bulldozing accident that scraped grooves into a road. The workers then drove over these grooves and discovered that it was possible to reproduce notes depending on the depth and spacing of them. With new concepts there seems to always be competition across the globe, even if by chance. Since the Hokkaido National Industrial Research Institute took over in 2007, there have been three permanently paved 250m stretches of “melody roads” built in Japan. South Korea has also built what they call a “singing road”. It is built similarly to the Japanese roads, however, it was built with a different intention. Instead of being created to attract tourists, the road in South Korea was intended to keep motorists alert and awake (68% of traffic accidents in South Korea are due to inattentive, sleeping or speeding drivers). The road sings “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, and took a mere four days to construct.
It would at first glance appear that we as humans have come a long way from the clopping of horse hooves against cobble stone streets, although, this might be the natural progression. One could argue that the different gaits that horses use to move produce different rhythms that can be considered musical (Horse gaits are the various ways in which a horse can move, either naturally or as a result of specialized training by humans). A horse has four different natural gaits which are walk, trot, canter, and gallop (arguably there are only three natural gaits, because many riders consider a canter to be simply a variation of a gallop. For the purposes of musical rhythms, though, I consider them different from one another). Another less commonly known natural gait for horses is called pace. Pace is the same as trot, being that they are both two beat gaits, but they use different legs. When a horse is in the pace gait, the two beats are created by moving forward with both legs on one side in unison, whereas the trot gait gains its two beat tempo from using the two legs diagonally opposite to move forward together. The most telling example of rhythmic horse gaits are “ambling” gaits. There are a significant number of names for various four-beat intermediate gaits. Though these names derive from differences in footfall patterns and speed, historically they were once grouped together and collectively referred to as the “amble.” Today, especially in the United States, horses that are able to do an ambling gait are referred to as “gaited.” In almost all cases, the primary feature of the ambling gaits is that 3 of the 4 feet are on the ground at any time, reflected in the colloquial term, “singlefoot.” I find it interesting to note that ambling gaits are further distinguished by whether the footfall rhythm is isochronous, four equal beats in a 1-2-3-4 rhythm; or a non isochronous 1-2, 3-4 rhythm created by a slight pause between the groundstrike of the forefoot of one side to the rear of the other. Maybe this can give us some insight as to how we came up with the name of the very popular style of music and dance from the early 1900s known as the foxtrot. Though, while foxtrot is the name of an amble gait, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that they are related. I like to think, though, that they are.
It seems to me that music is all around us. From the simple act of skipping a stone to driving a car, music can take on all sorts of forms. It can come from rhythms being produced from a “gaited” horse, or from a rock and roll drummer. Music being produced by the roads underneath us is a romantic metaphor for how music has driven our journey as humans. I wonder what other paths music will pave for us, and how many roads we will pave with music. I also hope that someday I will have my own theme music, but that is a different thing altogether.
Grosse Pointe Music Academy Staff/ Certified Luthier