Behind the Music of New York City's Expensive New Carousel

The SeaGlass Carousel, which opens in Manhattan’s Battery Park on August 20, features original music composed by Teddy Zambetti of SiriusXM. Filip Wolak

At the southern tip of Manhattan, 30 glowing fish representing a dozen species spin on enormous turntables. Some are nearly 14 feet tall, and hydraulics elevate them even higher. But it's how the fish sound much more than how they look that concerns Teddy Zambetti as he stands behind a gate at the SeaGlass Carousel, one day before it opens August 20 in Battery Park.

Zambetti, senior director of music production and in-house composer at SiriusXM, created the music for the ride. Riders won't be hearing the calliope sound that people most associate with carousels. "We did not want to go near that," he says.

Instead, he composed restructured synth-heavy versions of classical pieces in genres ranging from electronic dance music to jazz.

The Battery Conservancy spent a decade and $16 million to ensure that SeaGlass would be anything but a typical merry-go-round. While carousel riders typically sit atop the creatures, on SeaGlass they sit inside them. The space inside each fish features three speakers and a subwoofer. More speakers surround the ride, which consists of three rotating platforms on a fourth, and larger, one. The fish contain fiber-optic lighting, and 18 of them move on poles during the three-and-a-half-minute ride.

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"This really is more like theater," Zambetti says. But, he adds, "there's no theater like this. You're used to mixing [music] for 180 degrees or 360." With SeaGlass, on the other hand, it's "360 and above you and beneath. I guess you'd probably call it 720."

Before joining SiriusXM 15 years ago, Zambetti worked as a musical director for the Groundlings, a sketch comedy and improv theater company in Los Angeles, alongside comedians that included Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon. He's also played drums in various bands.

Composer Teddy Zambetti performs at a Georgetown Entertainment and Media Alliance event in 2012. Rafael Suanes/Georgetown Univ.

Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, says she went to SiriusXM to enlist a composer after hearing a friend's radio program in her car and enjoying the music. SiriusXM connected her with Zambetti, who joined the project around February. Price told him she wanted 73 songs, one for each ride of the day. "I'll be 110 by the time I'm finished," Zambetti says, joking. He contributed six pieces, four of which play during different rides and one of which plays as riders file on and off.

The structure that holds the ride is made of glass panes, metal and spirals in the shape of a conch, emphasizing the nautical theme and mimicking the rotation of the ride. Creating music for such an odd space was "a huge challenge," Zambetti says. Each song had to have as many as 80 different tracks, with different mixes for the room sound system and the speakers inside the fish.

Zambetti recorded the music at his studio at SiriusXM, where he composes for radio shows. Among the live musicians were his daughters, 15 and 11, and his wife, who is classically trained.

The finished songs incorporate "Aquarium" by Camille Saint-Saëns; Symphony No. 40 in G minor by Mozart; "Daphnis et Chloé," Suite No. 2, by Maurice Ravel; "Dance of the Knights" from "Romeo and Juliet" by Sergei Prokofiev; and "La Mer" by Claude Debussy.

Zambetti, Price and George Tsypin, who designed the space and previously worked on The Little Mermaid and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway as well as the 2014 Sochi Olympics, wanted pieces from the classical music canon that would match the ride's underwater theme. "I wanted the story—which piece was a descent, an exploration and an ascent," Price says, while conceding, "It doesn't mean I'm a big Mozart fan."

"The concept was to introduce famous classical melodies to the kids, and in a fashion that they might be more open to," Zambetti says. For Saint-Saëns, he brought in aspects of electronic dance music. For Mozart, he did world music, while for the others he did jazz and rock and roll.

"The music isn't underscoring. The music is the story," he says. "If you take the music out, this is an amazing event, but after 30 seconds you realize you're in a thing going up and down and spinning around. But the music takes you on the journey."

Price agrees. "It was all about the music. The drama is the music. The lighting is scored to the music, the motion is created to the music. The interior lighting of the fish, all of that is driven by the passion, the motion, the arc of the music," she says. "It booms and then it just socks you."