Swing, Loh! Sweet Chariots! A Recital Stops Traffic in L.A.

updated 09/21/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/21/1987 01:00AM

Driving L.A.'s freeways has been even less fun than usual since people started shooting each other over real and perceived breaches of traffic etiquette, so what greeted drivers on the Harbor Freeway this Labor Day weekend was a very welcome change. There on the roof of the Seventh Place Garage sat Sandra Tsing Loh at a rented grand piano, playing her classical-jazz-fusion compositions (Anthill, 64 Crayola). Thanks to six speakers and 9,600-watts, her work did not fall on deaf ears; it carried five blocks in all directions, reaching some 200,000 motorists even with their windows up. Gratefully, they honked and waved their sunglasses at her. Happily, no one gave her a standing ovation.

Loh's performance kicked off the L.A. Fringe Festival, an otherwise underground sort of happening timed to compete with the L.A. Arts Festival, which promotes more conventional artists. But Loh, 25, has dreamed of a serenade for horns ever since she realized three years ago that crawling motorists would be great listeners. "They're all facing the same direction," she explains. "They're a captive audience and they're completely bored. I know. This is my piece of the Freeway and I'm bored at rush hour."

That must be about the only time she is. Born in Malibu, Loh is the youngest child of a world-traveling Chinese scientist, and she has lived in Egypt and Brazil, dodged bullets in Belfast and braved snow-blindness on Peruvian mountains. She has also acquired a degree in particle physics from the California Institute of Technology; written instructional manuals for spy equipment; published two short stories; written a play that will be presented in West Hollywood this month; and started on her doctorate in English at USC, where she teaches an advanced writing course. But music is her love. Appearing at one L.A. club, she put a moped onstage, tunneled its exhaust outdoors through a 40-foot tube and performed Suite for Moped and Piano. "The moped soloed," she reports. "But the moped has a limited musical vocabulary." In Music for the Bonus Car Wash, her taped creations accompanied the brushes and sprays, ending just as attendants wiped off the car.

Her loftiest plan, however, still lies ahead. "In the year 2000," Loh says, "which I think is going to be a big deal, I'd like to play the piano on the moon."

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