City Beautiful: Subway (sound)Tracks

When taking public transit most of us prefer  to block out the squeaks and dings, the gum smacker in the next seat, and the screeeeeches of tracks, tourists and babies – we tend to pipe our own soundtracks directly into our ear canal and watch the city go by in peace. But maybe we’re missing out on something, the little rhythms produced by hulking trains moving people around, the soundtrack created unintentionally by transit infrastructure itself?

New York Public Radio’s Remix the Rails contest chose a winner last Friday – they invited musicians to “transform ordinary subway sounds from the New York City subway into extraordinary music.” Below you can take a listen to the winning entry from Lucas Carpenter, called “This is the Train” (impressive if you can listen without a side-to-side head bob):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In a more conceptual project combining transit data and sound, Google designer Alexander Chen’s Conductor project took New York subway lines, animated them, and turned the moving “trains” into a pluckable  instrument:

Conductor turns the New York subway system into an interactive string instrument. Using the MTA’s actual subway schedule, the piece begins in realtime by spawning trains which departed in the last minute, then continues accelerating through a 24 hour loop.

See it in action here (give it a minute to get going):

The design is based on Massimo Vignelli’s elegantly abstract 1972 subway map, which some loved, some hated, but most agree that regardless of its utility for not getting lost it does look pretty cool.

Massimo Vignelli's 1972 Subway Map | Courtesy of Visual Complexity

Granted, New Yorkers spend a lot of time on the subway and it’s quite loud underground, but have musicians and designers in other big cities turned noise into anything ipod-worthy?




One comment

  1. Pingback: City Beautiful: Subway (sound)Tracks (via Encountering Urbanization) « Urban Observatory

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