You’ll Just Have to Take My Word for It

In the pre-dawn hours of November 2, 2011, Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray crashed a government-owned vehicle on a stretch of Interstate 190 near Sterling, Massachusetts. Murray initially claimed that he simply lost control on the ice, wasn’t speeding, was wearing a seat belt, and braked before impact.

But those claims were all proved to be false when, after public demand, information from the Crown Victoria’s government-installed “black box” data recorder was released. The data revealed that the Lt. Governor had accelerated the car to 108 miles per hour and was not wearing a seat belt when the vehicle collided with a rock ledge, flipping over several times. Murray was unhurt in the accident, which is remarkable given the condition of the car, for which he personally reimbursed the state $8,965.67. Murray was also fined $555 for speeding, marked lanes violations, and his failure to buckle up.

Why was Murray out that night? Of his account of sleeplessness, one acerbic Boston Globe commenter writes, “If Murray tried this story on his mother, she would spank him and wash his mouth out with soap.” Although Murray passed a breathalyzer test at the scene, he initially resisted the release of the black box data, and has refused to make his phone records available to the public. The official story is that he fell asleep at the wheel, an analysis which seems plausible enough and yet is questioned by some experts.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing in the circumstances surrounding the Lt. Governor’s crash. Yet whatever “really” happened sits somewhere in the gap between data, political spin, the Internet, and sudden kinetic violence on the interstate.

You’ll Just Have to Take My Word for It interprets the data from Lt. Governor Murray’s crash as a piece for a small ensemble comprising two electric guitars and a tenor saxophone. The 5-minute performance corresponds to 20 seconds of black box data recovered from the Crown Victoria. Guitar one indicates the percentage that the Lt. Governor has floored the accelerator. The more gas, the faster the rhythm of a single repeated note, approaching the capacity of the guitarist. The speed of guitar two’s arpeggios are mapped to the subsequent RPM of the vehicle’s engine. The pitch of the tenor follows the overall motion of the car, accelerating. On impact, the temporal scale changes — we now hear the contortions of the vehicle as it flips through space in the single second before it comes to rest.

Commission: Quiet City. Data: Lt. Governor Tim Murray, Massachusetts State Police, The Boston Globe. Tenor Sax: Steven Leffue. Guitars: Steve Cohen, Luke Schwartz. Camera: Jonathan Minard. Lights: Paul Shin. Mastering: Nik Levinsky. Photo credit: Boston Herald. Thanks: Todd Winkler, NYTLabs, Jim Moses, Kelly Dobson, Ramsey Nasser, Caroline Woolard, Greg Mihalko, A’yen Tran, Ian Oberholtzer.