Archived entries for Sound and the City

7 Transitions

On a Saturday morning in May, with the help of friends, I conducted the first field test of 7 Transitions: a location aware, public sound installation for train cars on the 7 line through Queens.

The project incorporates a GPS module, the coordinates of which are passed through an Arduino microcontroller into Pure Data on my laptop. The Pd program is written to trigger sound according to what neighborhood the train is passing through—a sonic demarcation of civic boundaries that seeks not so much to represent the diverse neighborhoods of Queens as to highlight the transitions between them. For this iteration, I’ve employed a USB speaker to project chords of pure tones into the public space of a train car.

To invite passengers into the experience, we also distributed flyers with a brief statement in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean. This helped to provide a context for the work and allay concerns about the nature of our activity. (Cooperation with the MTA will likely be necessary for a larger scale installation.) It’s my hope that the transformation taking place on the train would also reconfigure the relationship between strangers who simultaneously occupy that space, in inverse proportion to the way a train delay does, for example.

7 Transitions reflects on the dynamics of nomadism, the character of urban neighborhoods, and the influence of proximity on one’s identity. A manifestation of research begun in the fall and developed over the spring semester, it was critically insightful to realize the project in public. For future development, there are at least two aspects to improve upon. First, I’d like for the sound to include input from the immediate environment, processed and output as part or in place of the prepared sound. At present it’s somewhat programmatic. I also need to find a more substantial method of deploying mobile audio as the speaker didn’t have quite the range I was hoping for.

Here is a video of the transition from Woodside to Sunnyside. Additionally, a video of me explaining the project to visitors at ITP’s end-of-semester show can be viewed here.

Notation From the 7 Line

+40° 45′ 34.40″, -73° 49′ 48.63″

+40° 45′ 25.34″, -73° 50′ 19.09″

+40° 44′ 56.96″, -73° 52′ 09.84″

+40° 44′ 47.33″, -73° 53′ 42.00″

+40° 44′ 36.42″, -73° 54′ 53.42″

+40° 44′ 50.36″, -73° 56′ 08.47″

+40° 44′ 38.64″, -73° 57′ 31.87″

The lines above correspond to geographic coordinates along the 7 train’s path through Queens. Numbers on the left indicate latitude: a positive value lays north of the equator, a negative value, south. Numbers on the right indicate longitude: a positive value lays east of the Prime Meridian, a negative value, west. The first set, then, is read 40 degrees, 45 minutes, 34.4 seconds north; 73 degrees, 49 minutes, 48.63 seconds west. This is the location of the terminal station at Main Street, Flushing. Each subsequent coordinate is placed where one neighborhood becomes the next.

In part, these coordinates represent the musical notation of my public sound project, 7 Transitions. They form the structure of the arrangement and will trigger elements sequentially along the route. Accordingly, the piece will sound different in Jackson Heights than in Long Island City. The nature of this sonic experience will be determined by samples taken from within the train car and processed in Pd.

Pure Data Sketch for 7 Transitions

Sketch for 7 Transitions (sound file, 2:50)

7 Transitions is the working title of a public sound installation I’ve been developing over the past two months. Audio for the project will be generated interactively through a Pure Data patch incorporating GPS data that triggers elements of the composition. The sketch brings together various aspects of Pd programming introduced in the first half of the semester.

It’s really great to produce something substantial with a visual programming language. Something about the workflow is both liberating and enjoyable to me. This is just the first sketch and it still needs work but peer response was favorable and you’re welcome to download the files and have a look. Soon I’ll have NMEA sentences running through the patch, too.

Images Collected Along the 7

Project Proposal

Project Description
Rising above Queens as it stretches from the East River to Main Street, Flushing, the 7 train bisects a series of vibrant and diverse neighborhoods. Each stop along the way opens to different languages, histories, and vantages on the city. And yet, by nature of their location and juxtaposition, these are cultures in flux—origins that once may have been neatly traced are being obscured, with new roots being put down each and every day. This Sound and the City project responds to the transformative process that is relocation, urban coalescence, and media culture. Adopting a train car on the 7 as the site of an immersive sound installation, the composition will unfold in stages corresponding to areas the train passes through.

The Site
As a project that explores the nomadic condition and intermingling of cultures, the enclosed space of a train car on the 7 seems an appropriate site for this urban intervention. The train is constantly in motion as it offers a window onto the borough of Queens. Acoustically, waves will overlap within the metal, plastic, and glass chamber. It is also a relatively accessible space in which people are pressed together regardless of economic and cultural demographics. And finally, I know the 7. Having traveled its entire length almost every day of the week for the past few years, this is a project born of long observation and experience.

Technical Description
To deploy a location-aware sound installation, I will incorporate a GPS module whose coordinates will be fed into an audio programming environment. The sounds generated will be sent to speakers arranged throughout the car. Electrical power options for operating the speakers will need to be investigated, as well as the nature of their connection. Because there is a surreptitious aspect to the installation, sensitivity to time of day will also be necessary. This could mean the middle of the afternoon or the middle of the night. The important thing is that travelers be drawn into an unexpected space of evolving sound.

Through this project, I seek to reflect on the dynamics and consequences of nomadism and the influence of proximity.

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