Kerouac's The Road Online Musicircus
December 4, 2005 1:35 PM   Subscribe

The Road Online is part of a collaborative project to gather ambient sounds from locations mentioned in Kerouac's "On the Road" in order to create a sonic portrait of the big cities, small towns, backwoods, deserts and mountains that Kerouac visited and wrote about. Feel free to record and contribute your own and become part of the musicircus. [via mefi projects]
posted by jessamyn (12 comments total)
That's an interesting idea. How do you get cities to sound different? The ubiquitous sounds of traffic, trains, busses and the street must be kinda common.

Somehow you have to feel that a guy who wrote novels in one go in mad drug propelled runs would like the web. Wonder where he'd hang out. Would he be a Kossack, write a crazy livejournal, comment on MeFi or what? Or perhaps he'd forego the whole thing and regard the web as filled with unfulfilled office workers venting but never transcending themselves.

Looks like there is an On The Road film in the early stages of planning to.
posted by sien at 2:14 PM on December 4, 2005

Will the sounds be the same 50 years after the writing? Choo choo trains replaced, jetliners added, much heavier automobile traffic, population gains and losses - so many changes.
posted by Cranberry at 2:44 PM on December 4, 2005

I think it sounds like an interesting idea too. As far as "getting" cities to sound different from one another, it strikes me that the subtle differences are what this is all about. Are there train sounds in the distance? A low ubiquitous roar no matter where you are, a la Manhattan? What do the ambulances sound like? Can you hear birds? Can you hear buskers? And so on. Interesting project.

I have often asked myself what Kerouac would have thought of the Internet. I'm certain that the Beat guys would have loved email, since they were such eloquent and passionate users of snail mail. I can easily envision Jack in a cafe in Tunisia when he was visiting Burroughs and helping him put Naked Lunch into shape, firing off lengthy gmail missives to Lucien Carr, Allen Ginsberg, and others back home.

The closest we'll probably ever come to knowing what the Beats would have thought of the Web was Allen Ginsberg's experience of it. As I've posted before, I was the guy who introduced Allen to the online world, on the day in 1996 that I interviewed him for HotWired. I think Allen essentially understood the Web as a self-publishing medium that enabled authors to reach their audiences directly and route around censorship. But I also think he was also a little old by that point to really plunge in. He died just a few months later.
posted by digaman at 2:46 PM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

That's a good point Cranberry, though I think the idea still has merit. What would be really fascinating would be to compare the sounds of each era.
posted by digaman at 2:47 PM on December 4, 2005

I am not all that interested in hearing a "sonic portrait" of any location. People should go out and narrate passages of the novel in the relevant environment if they want to create a stimulating experience. Mixing random noise with bop, folk and jazz is kinda pointless. In fact, stay at home and read the book - it's all in there.
posted by fire&wings at 3:19 PM on December 4, 2005

No, he probably wouldn't be a Kossack, as such. While he wasn't a fire-breathing right-winger, he was pretty conservative. IIRC, he was at a party where Ginsberg et al. were tossing around an American flag, and, after admonishing them, folded it respectfully and took it with him.

Useless trivia: One of the first venues where The Warlocks played was at the Kerouac's apartment. Later, that band would go on to become . . . ? The Grateful Dead.

Now you know the rest of the story . . . .
posted by John of Michigan at 4:43 PM on December 4, 2005

Despite the years, Kerouac remains steadfastly middlebrow, a sort of desperate romance for the masses.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 5:32 PM on December 4, 2005

Kerouac is by far my favorite writer; this sounds like an incredibly interesting project. I'd very much like to participate, but it doesn't seem like he's mentioned Providence and my travelling budget (or lack thereof) prohibits any "sound-gathering" expeditions elsewhere.

I suppose I shall just make an effort to retrieve my copy of On the Road from storage and re-read it ASAP.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:35 PM on December 4, 2005

digaman - although not relevant to On The Road As such, Simon Fraser University had an ongoing ambience recording project at various locations from the 70's through to the 90's - they recorded a lot of the same locations in Vancouver, so you can hear how the city's soundscape has changed over the last 20 years...
posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:37 PM on December 4, 2005

grapefruitmoon, you might be able to squeeze in a cheapie trip to the Atlantic Ocean at some point since that's one of the non-specifi locations he mentions that's right near you. I'm sort of "eh" on some of Kerouac myself, but sicne I gerew up right near Lowell MA, he remains a bit of a cultural icon around here. People seem to be able to understand him, despite his eccentricities, because he came from that pre-hippe era and looked somewhat normal. I thought this site was a good companion for people interested in Kerouac and K-related projects.
posted by jessamyn at 4:36 AM on December 5, 2005

Despite the years, Kerouac remains steadfastly middlebrow, a sort of desperate romance for the masses.

It will take a little unpacking to convince me that this is anything but nonsense. But feel free, Jesse. Arguments that Kerouac moves "middlebrow" high school students to take desperately romantic trips across the country don't count, any more than arguments that the Beatles were basically a band designed to bring middle-aged secretaries to tears. I.e., talk about the writing itself.

Useless trivia: One of the first venues where The Warlocks played was at the Kerouac's apartment. Later, that band would go on to become . . . ? The Grateful Dead.

As much as I'd like to believe this, I'd love a citation, since I'm trying to imagine which of Kerouac's apartments this might have been. Despite doing a lot of research into both Kerouac and the Dead over the years, I've never come across this anecdote. But I'd love to hear more about it.
posted by digaman at 8:00 AM on December 5, 2005

I like ideas like this, and I guess it's time to explore .projects a bit more to see what people are up to. I'm not a huge fan of Kerouac, though, I find the writing to be kind of tedious and poorly edited. I really like On The Road for about the first half, and then I thought it was too long.
posted by OmieWise at 6:01 AM on December 6, 2005

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