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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sound happenings

Two audio-related items to note:

A couple weeks ago I got an opportunity, as part of the DC Listening Lounge, to visit a cool and mysterious place -- the abandoned trolley station underneath DC's Dupont Circle.

A little background: Dupont Circle is one of the city's most vibrant neighborhoods, with many restaurants, bars, stores, the city's biggest weekly farmer's market, etc. Most people don't even realize that beneath the eponymous circle, there's a station from the days when streetcars were the primary mass transit in DC. (Metro's present-day Dupont Circle station is significantly deeper below.) The station and accompanying underground track tunnels were built in the 1940s, in an effort to ease congestion in the circle. An automobile underpass to allow Connecticut Ave to bypass the circle was also built at the same time. The streetcars were abandoned in favor of buses (sigh) in 1962, exactly 50 years ago. The station (actually two stations, wrapping around both sides of the circle) was reserved as a fallout shelter for a time, but fully abandoned in the 1970s. A small part of the facility was turned into a food court in the 1990s, but an unscrupulous developer and claustrophobic design doomed it in short order.

Jumping to the present, a group calling itself Dupont Underground is trying to develop the entire underground area -- the stations plus adjoining tunnels -- as a retail and arts space. They've been at it for a few years now, and have recently secured an exclusive agreement with the city to negotiate for a lease on the space. They are working to build support for this effort, and are giving various interested parties tours of the space. We met two reps from the group on a street corner near the circle, walked down the narrow curb alongside the vehicle underpass, and went through a metal door in the side of the underpass, and entered the dark tunnel. Here's a sound recording I made as we went in:

It was pretty cool being in a totally abandoned (and mostly forgotten) space underneath one of the busiest places in the city. I took a few pictures with my phone in the station portion where there was lights, but you'd probably be better off looking at some more professional pics of the space posted by this guy on Flickr. We brought a few noisemaking implements (including a violin) with us to explore the acoustics, which were echoey in an unusual way, with all the bare concrete and connecting tunnels. In any case, the group has a lot of work ahead of them to realize their vision, but if they can make it work, the space has the potential to be a very cool addition to Dupont Circle.

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Also in the sounds-in-striking-settings department, a band that my friend Jocelyn is in, The Torches, played a gig this afternoon at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It was in the Luce Center, which is a gorgeous three-tier atrium on the top floor of the museum. The band got to select a piece of art from the collection (a painting entitled "Life Mask"), and a staff member gave a short talk about it before they started their performance. Seeing a band I've seen several times in small clubs play an "unplugged" set in such a stately setting was neat, and definitely changed how I perceived the music. This is part of a monthly series the Luce Center is putting on, so I may try and check out some future shows.

Here's the Luce Center, with the band setting up at the far end.


gastropodblue said...

Oh man, so jealous - I have always wanted to explore down there!

Denee Barr Art News and More said...

Enjoyed great opportunities both at the DC Underground tour and the Smithsonian Luce Foundation Center series. Thanks for your post!