Artist Transforms City’s Movement Into Music With Sensing Technology

City noise might be considered quite a racket to some. The sounds of public transportation, honking horns, emergency vehicles, trash cans, people yelling and dogs barking can drown out the more natural sounds of leaves on a windy day or birds chirping.

Marc De Pape, a “creative technologist” and musician, was seeking something slightly more abstract than even nature or city sounds. He developed a way to transform factors like time of day and movement into a more harmonious representation of the city’s own soundtrack.

His project “The Chime: Scoring the City” uses sensing technology to not get rid of everyday city noises but to add to them by picking up on environmental factors and translating them into sound.

marc de page sensor the chime
This contraption — The Chime — is made up of sensors that pick up on a variety of environmental factors and translate them into music. (Photo: Marc De Pape)

“I set out to explore the relationship between sensing technology and the routines of everyday life,” De Pape wrote on his website. “I feel the city is all too commonly represented by abstract systems and maps, a tendency driven by a reductionist pursuit of efficiency, and one which ignores the idiosyncrasies occurring on street level. This is the noise in the system, the richness that ultimately renders cities generative landscapes. I thus set out to bring attention to the noise by building a musical instrument inspired by wind chimes.”

“The Chime,” as he calls it, is 18 sensors that measure 27 parameters to “poetically translate the impulses and flows of the everyday city into sound.” In his thesis about the project, he details the instrument as using light sensors, infrared motion detectors, ultrasonic proximity sensors and microphones, which are used not to record but as meters.

With these sensors, De Page makes music of light or dark, something moving toward or away from the instrument and more.

De Page made 14 videos showing how The Chime system works in different areas of the city when exposed to different environment.

This example shows a busy corner in the afternoon. Notice how sensors produces different sounds in response to movement around it:

This one translate dogs playing in a park during the evening hours:

Here’s one set near a busy, fast-moving road:

And turn our ear toward what night sounds like:

(H/T: Popular Science)