LOS ANGELES – The whirlwind of travel through LAX calms down when you enter the Orchestra. At the start of a 1,000-foot-long corridor that connects the Tom Bradley International terminal’s Grand Hall with its west gates, the light fades to a soothing cerulean. Ambient music rises to greet passengers as the moving boardwalk passes them through the terminal.
Along the way, the music shifts between 30 compositions written in a single key (C major), by acclaimed artists such as Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, local heroes John Carroll Kirby and Dwight Trible of the Leimert Park World Stage, and avant-garde L.A. composers like Molly Lewis, Celia Hollander and Sam Gendel.
At the end, an exhibition of works by Helen Pashgian, Larry Bell and more artists from the Light and Space movement invites travelers to think about LA’s sculpture history using aircraft-age industrial materials.
“You can see it’s attractive when they press their faces into the glass,” laughed Tim McGowan, art manager for LAX, as he showed off the sculptures and sound installation to passing travelers last week.
The Orchestrina, a public art installation by LA’s leading radio and events collective Dublab, is part of a new three-year contract for the station to program live music and sound art at LAX. It’s a subtle introduction to LA’s experimental music and art scenes, all before you even get to the customs gate.
While passengers worry about the many things going wrong in the skies these days, from door plugs popping open in mid-air to pilots with mushrooms, Orkestrina is a brief moment of gustatory and sensory peace.
“For decades now, Dublab has been making programs in unconventional places,” said Alejandro Cohen, executive director of Dublab. “Maybe the last frontier of this is the airport.”
It’s one thing to curate a lush showcase of ambient music under the clay canopy at Descanso Gardens (where Dublab recently held a mini-festival where fans were encouraged to snooze). It’s quite another to stick it out in a place that is shorthand for how deep your loved ones will sacrifice to get you.
In 2022, more than 65 million people passed through LAX, many on their way to the thousands of shows and festivals that make LA the live music capital of the world. Dublab received the call from LAX Arts Program Director Sarah Cifarelli to build the Orchestra in 2019; after pandemic delays and changes in technology starting in 2021, Orchestrina is officially open to the public and will stay for at least three years.
The exhibit likely has the most cryptic intrigue of any airport art that doesn’t hide a UFO bunker (like Denver Airport’s rumored “Blucifer” horse). To build it, Dublab’s Eli Welbourne worked with music technology firm Lux Aeterna to merge those 30 original fragments into a single ever-evolving, space-separated work that’s based on the composer’s In C opus Terry Riley and Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. ” as a mood board. The music shifts and follows you through the walkway and it feels like you’re being pulled through a near-future sci-fi trailer.
“That’s absolutely the goal, to provide like a brief respite from the hectic feeling,” Welbourne said. “There’s a really interesting effect when you walk into the installation, going down this long set of stairs and entering this blue light that completely surrounds you with music and field recordings, where you can hear birds and the wind going through the grass.”
“I think we’re able to help alleviate those moments of stress,” Cifarelli said, “and really create a passenger experience that’s more human and enjoyable.”
There are plenty of events planned for the next three years as Dublab strives to make one of the scariest venues on the circuit somewhere you can stand and listen.
On Wednesday, the station brought in two experimental electronic acts, Ana Roxanne and DJ Python, to perform ambient music like Natural Wonder Beauty Concept for a new series for ticketed passengers at LAX Terminal 1.
“I believe in the power of public art to be able to offer this kind of work to a broad, evolving audience that is always passing through,” Welbourne said.