Symphony of transportation
The composition that will be created can be categorized as data sonification. It will map the timetables of the buses and trams of the BSAG into sound. In order to do so, each tram and bus line will be assigned a musical note, for example C2 to line 1, C#2' to line 2 etc. Then for each arrival/departure of these transportation mediums at the main station the assigned note will be played. The suggested methodology for this is to discretize the time between 0 AM and 11:59 PM into time slots of 5 minutes, and play the tone of the buses/trams that are scheduled to arrive/departure within such a slot. The following figure tries to demonstrate the concept. The columns are the time intervals, where as the rows show the tram/bus and the assigned note. When a box is in green it means that a tram/bus of the according line is arriving during the according time interval, which leads to the assigned note to be played. Line and 0 Note\ Time AM Tram 1/N1 C2 Tram 4/N4 C#2 Tram 5 - D2 Tram 6 - D#2 ... 0.05 0.10 0.15 ... AM AM AM 8.00 8.05 … 23.5 5
Motivation and theoretical foundation This composition could most likely be categorized as conceptual art. It has many goals and hypothesis, one of which is to sonify the data (which is the time table) in order to enable the listener to grasp aspects of the data intuitively, such as for example to understand what times of the day are more „busy“ and in what times less buses/trams are arriving (probably at night). Other conclusions the listener might come to are, which trams/buses are coming very often and which do not (according to what notes the listener hears often). Another hypothesis is, that by buses/trams that arrive in the same time interval, „interesting“ chords may occur. Also „melodies“ might occur by the sequence in which buses/trams arrive. It is expected, that at least in some parts of the composition or for some notes, rhythms or repeating sequences might be perceived (due to the main trams coming in even distances of usually every 10 minutes, at least during the „rush hours“). This perceiving of rhythms that might be there for some parts of the composition might lead to the perception of musical qualities. This would relate to John Cages saying that everything that happens has musical potential. In this composition, „random“ arrivals of trains and buses (of course they are not random, but certainly BSAG did not arrange its timetable in terms of musical aesthetics) can trigger sounds which may be experienced as music. If this „music“ will be harmonic or disharmonic can not be determined before finishing the composition. Besides John Cage, another influence to this composition might be the Fluxus movement, as one of their ideas is that art can be found in everyday life. This is certainly true for this compositions, as for a large part of Bremens' population there is probably not much that is more day-to-day than taking buses or trams (and reading timetables). Therefore this proposal can be seen as showing the artistic qualities of this everyday life activity.
Variations The suggested way is to take the time schedule between 0 AM and 23:59 PM for a Monday, and map each time interval of 5 minutes to 1 second of composition. However there are different variations possible, which may be tried (in various combinations) in the course of the composition: – Map the time intervals of 5 minutes to 2 seconds of composition, instead of 1 second – Instead of taking all arriving buses/trams for each line, just take the ones going in a certain direction (as each line has two directions) – Instead of time intervals of 5 minutes, map arriving buses/trains with a precision of 1 minute. Each „real time“ minute could be mapped to either ½ or ¼ second of composition (therefore leading to a „speed“ of 120 or 240 BPM). – Instead of taking all trams/buses, take either just trams or buses – Instead of notes, the arrivals could be mapped to rhythmical elements (like bass drums, hi hats, snares etc) – Assign notes to the trams and rhythmical elements to buses, or the other way around Execution All trams/buses that leave the main station towards a specific direction were taken into account. In order to include the night buses in the sonification, the Friday's timetable was chosen. All timetables of the respective lines have been transferred into an excel sheet. In this excel sheet, one row equals 5 real-time minutes, and the bus/tram lines are arranged column-wise. A program was written, that reads and interprets the excel sheet. In doing so, one row was read in real-time respectively, and the program examined which lines are affected in this 5-minute section. Then a predefined sound event was executed for each line and, after a waiting period of 250 milliseconds, the next row was read and interpreted. Meanwhile, the whole process was being recorded, where the 24 real-time hours map to 1:15 minutes. Several variations of this process were created and recorded, which vary in the type of the predefined sound events. This variations were then put in a meaningful sequence, in order to create a piece with a total length of approximately 6 minutes. This piece is structured as follows: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. All trams, piano-like instrument, lower tones All buses, piano-like instrument, higher tones All trams and buses, unknown instrument, all tones All trams and buses, various rhythm elements All trams (various rhythm elements), all buses (piano-like instrument, higher tones)
The result of this arrangement may be perceived as an orchestra of buses and trams. Because this piece has not been created in a sequencer like Cubase, the selection of instrumentation was restricted. The instruments were selected out of a pool of around 100 instruments. This restriction was due to the selected programming language (Java) as well as the selected library (Java Sound API). It has been tried to select the instruments as well as the individually assigned tones in a way, that the single events are to some degree distinguishable. The tones are not 100% in sync during some parts of the piece, which was intended. In real life, there is a time table that says for example that a certain tram line leaves the main station every 10 minutes. Hypothetically, this time table is kept sometimes more, sometimes less accurately. However, the timetable is in reality almost never kept to the split second, as this would be impossible to schedule. Therefore the decision was made not to use a sequencer and instead in real-time parse the excel-rows and transfer them into sound events. As with a time table, in theory everything should happen according to schedule, in this case the written program code was supposed to take the same time to parse one row as for the next row. In reality however, the parsing time differs for each row by a few milliseconds (due to processes running in the background that lead to the computer being sometimes faster, sometimes slower), leading to the impression that the piece is slightly out of sync.
The hypotheses made in this text can be said to have proven true. It can probably be sounded out that at the beginnings and endings of the piece (thus at night) less buses and trams leave the main station, whereas the „rush hour“ in the morning and evening is even more hectic than usual. If the tones and rhythm elements that are assigned to the individual transportation media would be introduced separately, it would probably be possible to sound them out. Furthermore it is safe to say that the resulting variations posses „musical“, respectively „rhythmical“ qualities. Tobias Hildebrandt For more information and for listening to the data sonification go to: http://edwardvance.blogspot.com/ http://soundcloud.com/ed-vance/symphony-of-transportation