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Conducting the public transport network

How does the public transport network sound? What noises could you derive from the different lines and tracks?

Probably commuters will have a very individual and specific sound scape in mind, thinking about the journey on the public transport network. Every journey sounds different and heavily depends on various factors. But there is still a general feeling for different spaces according to sounds.

Very much as discussed earlier in the MyTime interview ‘On SoundTimeSpace’ with Salomé Voegelin sound is generating presence. As she puts it: “Sound is never an a priori, it is not there before its experience, but is generated in our audition and this audition is what extends its present moment to include all that could sound as well as what does”.

Image taken from mta.me by Alexander Cheng / NY Subway trains visualised as a string instrument. Turn your head phones up.

Relating this back to the transport network, Alexander Chen has developed his own interpretation of the transport network music and uses the New York Subway map to conduct a simple piece. The lines are turned into strings and are played at the crossing of lines. When ever train crosses another line it playes the line-string like a string instrument.

The rhythm is based on the actual train shedule. The trains are running as feed is pulled in directly from the MTA’s public API. The actuall visualisation runns on MTA.me. The site is built in HTML5/Javascript with some flash running the sound.

Alexander explains: “Length determines pitch, with longer strings playing lower notes. When a string is in the middle of being drawn by a subway car, its pitch is continually shifting. The sounds are cello pizzicato from the wonderful freesound.org, a set recorded by corsica_s. A complete chromatic scale was too dissonant. Ultimately I settled on a simple major C scale but with the lowest note as a raised third E, which keeps it from ever feeling fully resolved.”

And as a suggestion for your next day at work come via a comment left on Alexanders blog: “Thanks to your boss suggestion, I opened up 3 tabs and I haven’t felt like turning my iTunes back on again because the entropic free jazz strumming is so bewitching! Sweetness on top of sweetness.”

Maybe seeing the tube network in such a way might alter the individual soundscape. Length of journey and time of crossing. Also have a look at Alexanders mta.me for the full screen visuals that are actually based on the 1972 Massimo Vignelli (hear Vignelli talking about his work HERE. Extract from the great Helvetica film) diagram. And also note that the lines since have changed and between 00h00 and 02h00 Alexander runs some ghost trains to keep the concert going. It runs as a look so you can listen to it all day long.

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