Sounds of the City: a Video, an Article, a Podcast and an Anecdote

I did a bit of work on my podcast today (new episode this week hopefully), so maybe I just had sound on the brain. Whatever the case, I read a story today about using design to make the city a better place through sound, which reminded me of a couple of other stories.

A video: Piano Stairs

If there’s just one of these projects you are familiar with it’s probably this one. The clips in the video show people overwhelmingly favoring the stairs when the stairs are made interactive and fun. This is about the clearest example of how the built environment can affect your behavior and I love it. Unfortunately, I don’t think this idea scales directly; if every staircase were a piano I think people would get bored and just take the escalator. Speaking of …

A podcast: “Musical” Escalators

[via 99% Invisible]

This podcast describes the sounds that the aging escalators of the DC Metro make, which is part Frankenstein affirmation and part whale fart. It’s a bit more aurally pleasing than I made it sound, and certainly not as terrible-sounding as a it is possible for a malfunctioning machine to be. Anyone who has ever accidentally tried to start their car when it was already running knows what I’m talking about. There are many “found sounds” to be discovered in a city that could be musical in the right context but …

An article: Subway Symphony

[via the Wall Street Journal]

… James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem wants to make the NYC subway deliberately musical. Imagine the discordant and disdainful “beeps” of the turnstiles replaced with an arpeggio specific to which stop you are entering or leaving. There is a musical mock-up that you can listen to halfway down the page in the linked article, and a petition you can sign at the page for the project. It looks pretty grim, though; an MTA rep is quoted as saying that, even though every turnstile’s sound chip is already being altered in the course of scheduled maintenance between now and 2019, implementing this idea would be too expensive and time consuming for an art project. Which is sad, considering how a little bit of music can make a day much better, even when you’re not expecting it.

An anecdote: CFA at CMU

At least, that’s been my experience walking around campus at Carnegie Mellon University. I’m not sure if it’s a happy accident or if it was designed this way, but if you’re walking by the College of Fine Arts you can often hear the students on the second floor practicing their instruments. It always cheered me to hear the the music as I walked by, even if it was just scales. The sound seemed to be play along the whole of the facade, so the music would sneak up on me even though it was there all along, and I could still here it even as I left the building behind. And if I lingered on the lawn I could get the voyeuristic thrill of listening in on someone who didn’t know they were being listened in on, working out a challenging piece of music. It’s a fond memory I have of that building. One of the few.

Just kidding. It’s the only one.

That’s all for today. Stay tuned, I’m pretty sure there will be a bonus post or two this week. And in the spirit of bonuses, here is a bonus story about police in the UK mapping the sonic profile of background electrical noise in order to nab criminals. I guess this is the kind of thing you have to do when you don’t just have the location data for all your own citizens handy.


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