Innovative Musician Uses Technology To Score The Sounds of A City

Innovative Musician Uses Technology To Score The Sounds of A City

While many city dwellers seek to tune out the cacophony of the urban landscape through earbuds or Bluetooth devices, one innovative musician at OCAD Universityin Toronto is using technology to hone in on the sounds of the city in a completely unique way.

As part of his master’s thesis project at OCAD University — Canada’s largest and oldest educational institution for art and design — musician and “creative technologist,” Marc De Pape, built the Chime, an instrument whose compositions are determined by its environment, and not by the whims of a single human performer.

So, how does it work?

The Chime is composed of a variety of sensors — four luminosity sensors, four IR motion detectors, four ultrasonic proximity sensors, and four microphones (used as meters and not recorders) — all housed within an octagonal enclosure made of laser-cut acrylic.

These sensors work in conjunction with an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a digital thermometer, and a magnetometer (instruments that measure force, angular velocity, temperature, and magnetic fields, respectively) to record 27 parameters of environmental data to an SD card once every 50 milliseconds.  

The data gathered by the Chime is then filtered through De Pape’s “poetic translations” to create harmonious music. These translations determine everything from which instruments will be triggered by which sensors to the key of each musical piece. The passing of a car may trigger a series of piano notes while a gust of wind may set off a flurry of strings.

The result is an instrument that can “perform” the music of an environment.

The Chime performs “I Can’t Tell If You’re Coming Or Going” between Lakeshore Blvd. and Lake Ontario in the Morning in Dm from Marc De Pape on Vimeo.

As impressive as De Pape’s Chime is, it’s just one of the many innovative projects in the works as part of OCAD’s Digital Futures Initiative.

This cutting-edge initiative comprises a collection of research laboratories, graduate, and undergraduate programs that prepare students for what the school calls Renaissance 2.0: “the global digital revolution that fuses together disruptive technology and new thinking.” 

Students enrolled in the DFI programs explore the role of digital media and technology as a present and future catalyst for change. While most have backgrounds in design, technology, or enterprise, the program is open to applicants from a variety of disciplines, including art, marketing, media, education, the social sciences, and engineering.

The goal of the Digital Futures Initiative is to create what Program Director Tom Barker calls “X-shaped innovators” for the creative digital industries.

Each point on the X represents a different expertise: art, design, science, and enterprise. While students acquire practical knowledge in each of these areas, the program places an emphasis on collaboration across the fields to fill the need for X-shaped innovators to lead the Renaissance 2.0 into the future.

De Pape is one of the first graduates to emerge from OCAD’s innovative program, and his 100+ page Masters thesis paper for the project, “The Chime: Scoring The City,” is available in full online, as are 14 unique performances of The Chime in both video and audio form.

These atmospheric, ambient songs will cause anyone to pause and consider the music of the modern city. So, the next time you’re stuck in traffic or annoyed by that construction site, think about De Pape’s Chime and seek out the music within the noise.

As the Co-Founder and Lead Writer/Editor for LA Music Blog, a Los Angeles-based music news and review website, Kristin Houser’s life revolves around music and technology. She has been an avid fan of music ever since discovering her parents’ vinyl collection while still in elementary school, and she is fascinated by all the ways technology allows her to discover new music and share it with the world. She currently manages a staff of fifteen writers and contributors at LA Music Blog, and when she isn’t scouring the internet for her latest musical obsession, Kristin frequents Los Angeles’ many music venues where she can usually be found hovering near the front of house engineer while jotting down set lists in her smart phone. She is very pleased to share her latest music obsessions and all the ways technology allows her to discover and enjoy music with iQ by Intel’s audience.