Parsons The New School for Design Scores The Sounds Of The City

by , Sep 26, 2011, 3:42 PM
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Hello darkness, my old friend. If I used sensors to listen to you closely, then added musical notes, how would you sound? Happy? Sad? Fast?  

Parsons The New School for Design launched an experiential project in New York City called SoundAffects. 

Sensors were placed throughout a city block that listened and recorded temperature, color, sound, movement and light. An interactive wall was erected on that same block, housing additional sensors and headphone jacks. Each sound was matched with a musical composition that changed along with the environment. For example, rush hour produces more foot and vehicle traffic than other dayparts, resulting in a frenzied musical pace. Darkness or rainy weather would result in gloomier notes.  

Since the majority of city dwellers can most likely be found with headphones in tow, the installation encouraged pedestrians to plug in to listen to their surrounding environment.

Along with the musical pairings came a visualizer that translated the environmental sounds into varying movements of color.

The experiment took place for 10 days, with the overall goal of using design to change the way one normally looks at their environment. 

"This exploration is an invitation for the public to participate in the design of our cities," said Joel Towers, Executive Dean of Parsons The New School for Design. "It's a tangible way to understand design's role in the world around us by looking at everyday occurrences in a different way, and how we can effect change in our cities." 

The Parsons The New School for Design collaborated with mono (concept development), Tellart (engineering and musical composition), PD Solid (wall production) and CRASH+SUES (film creation) to create the project. 

The installation was placed on Fifth Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets, the same block where Parsons The New School for Design is located. 

The school received a city permit for the 10-day wall installation and used part of its own building to conduct experiments. 

There was no paid advertising for the initiative; it was promoted on Parson's Web site, Facebook and Twitter pages. 

"The music development was the largest single undertaking," said Travis Olson, creative co-chair, mono. "A reactive score that you open up to change depending on unknown inputs took a lot of imagination, planning and technical knowledge. The weather also was a challenge as it rained for 5 or 6 days in a row, severely testing our components and wall to its limits." 

Olson also mentioned that it took only a lone pedestrian to get passersby interacting with the wall.  

"Once there was one person plugged in, people then would gather. The music was developed in a way that made it very listenable. We heard many stories of people who started listening online, and would just leaving it running all day in their offices." 

I'm banking that the soothing tracks left playing at work were the musical notes from sunny days and minimal foot traffic rather than hot garbage and honking taxi drivers.

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