Conductor by Alexander Chen

Having grown up in southern California, and living on the west coast most of my life, I’ve never had the chance to ride in a subway. Not that I’m really eager to, either. After all, I am very claustrophobic and I really hate people, so it never seemed like a good mix. However, I recently watched this cool animation on where a subway map was turned into a musical instrument. By using an actual MTA subway schedule, programmer Alexander Chen created this unique animation based on Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 diagram. What’s really cool (for me at least) is that Chen used a combination of Adobe Illustrator, HTML5, and Javascript to make this. The music is actually a cello pizzicat (whatever that is, yeah I could Google it but ‘eh, lazy has no cure), and according to Chen,

I originally wrote the physical string plucking code for the still-in-progress Crayong project. The strings can be grabbed and pulled at various distances along its length. It’s a little engine I plan to use for a lot of future projects. Planning a detailed post and video on how it works.

Length determines pitch, with longer strings playing lower notes. When a string is in the middle of being drawn by a subway car, its pitch is continually shifting. The sounds are cello pizzicato from the wonderful, a set recorded by corsica_s. A complete chromatic scale was too dissonant. Ultimately I settled on a simple major C scale but with the lowest note as a raised third E, which keeps it from ever feeling fully resolved.

Even though the sound is a little chaotic, there is something kind of tranquil about this. Kind of like an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, but without the creepy puppets. Check it out below and let us know what you think …about the video. Just the video.

Conductor: from Alexander Chen on Vimeo.

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