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Flämischer Akkordeonstau (2023)

for accordion, acoustic guitar, and live electronics - 4 minutes
written for Lux Nova Duo

Flämischer Akkordeonstau is a musical reflection on a curious mobility phenomenon called “phantom traffic jams” (in Flemish “accordeonfile”, lit. “accordion traffic jam”). This occurrence happens when a traffic jam originates from one car slowing down a tiny bit and the chain reaction that follows of others pulling their brakes. I got hooked by the notion that this phenomenon can already be initiated when someone only briefly gets distracted (e.g., by their phone) and slows down just a bit. The response times of other drivers add up, possibly ending up as a fully grown-up traffic jam for no apparent reason.

In my childhood, I would occasionally hear this term Accordeonfile mentioned in the traffic updates on the radio. I always thought it was a funny and quite imaginative concept. Inspired by this term, I started to explore its meaning and ended up reading about its English cousin, phantom traffic jams. I continued researching and learned about mobility architecture, Braess's paradox, clouds, Kelvin-Helmholtz waves, the 15 worst traffic jams in history, the ethical dilemmas of self-driving cars, and other more and less related topics

Sketch from Flämischer Akkordeonstau

Sketch from Flämischer Akkordeonstau

I saw some visualisations of mobility tests of cars driving in circles and how a phantom traffic jam could occur within this setting. This inspired me. I decided to create a piece for guitar, accordion, and live electronics that reflects these findings. So I set out to create a musical congestion in which the music paradoxically keeps flowing.

Lux Nova Duo playing Flämischer Akkordeonstau

At the beginning of the piece, the audience hears a rural highway soundscape formed by the sounds of air and friction. In this atmosphere, created by the performers themselves, the two (obviously buckled-up) musicians begin to “drive” in loops.

Flämischer Akkordeonstau was composed for and premiered by Lux Nova Duo as part of the Hamburg Dialogues Festival in June 2023. It was also performed at GEDOK during Blurred Edges 2024.

The electronics were partly made at the Elektronmusikstudion (EMS) in Stockholm, using their Buchla 100 system.

Every pitch that is added presents an extra car on this auditory highway. Because the loops stay the same length, more and more pitches get squeezed into the same time frame, until they are so jammed that the music gets stuck. At this moment, musical phantoms arise from the electronics, creating a 4-voiced texture in which the performers play with their own and each other’s electronic alter egos. The ride gets quite bumpy, and the control pedals are heavily swinging back and forth until the traffic jam dissolves as if nothing happened.

Lux Nova Duo performing the work
Photo: C.S. Alvarez

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