Reactor

Sound Out the Soothing Symphony of the Subway System

by An Xiao on January 26, 2012

An L train departs at 6:32 pm as other lines pluck and intersect.

An L train departs at 6:32 pm as other lines pluck and intersect.

LOS ANGELES — When I was living in New York, I always loved taking the N/Q/R/W train at the 34th Street/Herald Square station and swinging by Christopher Janney’s “REACH New York” (1996).  Installed just within reach of most people, it allowed hurried passers-by and bored passengers waiting alike to reach up and trigger a series of fun sounds and music.

Alexander Chen (via vimeo.com/alexanderchen)

Playing to the idea of subway as symphony, Brooklyn-based Alexander Chen has tapped the MTA’s train schedule and mapped it over time with Massimo Vignelli’s classic (and beloved) subway map. Like lightcycles in the Tron sci-fi movie, the trains move forward in empty space on colored lines. But instead of exploding when they intersect, they pluck the chords of a cello pizzicato. The music plays out continuously over 24 hours, creating a simple, hypnotic symphony thanks to the MTA’s public API and the Creative Commons database at Freesound.org.

You can load up the piece, called Conductor, at MTA.ME and then let it cycle throughout the day. Like You Are Listening To, which I wrote about earlier this week, it’s a lovely aesthetic abstraction of the urban jungle. Every chord in the real world is an enormous rumble through the tunnels of New York’s underground maze, with millions of people shuttling through on their way to another pluckin’ stop.

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