Digital or analog, the essence of recording and production is the act of representing. One thing becomes another; one medium stores information about another. That representation can also be physical, tangible, and visible. In a sculptural pianola, Akko Goldenbeld turns the Dutch city of Eindhoven into a pianola roll, so that the landscape of buildings and streets acts as a physical musical score. I think it raises some questions about whether translating the one into the other obscures the experience of a city rather than clarifies it, but that would discount the act of watching it: with the visual connected to the sound, one begins to see the topography of the resulting music.

From the description on the video:

The tall buildings in the city centre have a heavy touch; the low-rise villas to the South create considerably gentler sounds. Akko Goldenbeld has a very personal way of looking at, or rather listening to the city.

He has created a scale model of Eindhoven and assigned it the role of sound recorder; the buildings create a score. Placed on a revolving wooden cylinder the buildings set little hammers in motion that play the keys of a piano. And turning and turning, the city makes its voice heard: from loud to soft, long to short, high-pitched to low, traslating the urban developers’s three-dimensional reality into an aural experience. Stadsmuziek (City Music) makes you tune in to the ensemble-playing that is environemental planning.

Via a terrific blog dedicated to data visualization (and, here, sonification) and their relation to design, Infosthetics. (Say that three times fast. Infosthetics sells aesthetic sensibilities by the seashore… Yesth, indeed. I’m glad this is a blog and not radio. It’s eight minutes past the hour. This is CDM.)

  • I just moved from a 4 story apartment to a 2 floor house in Eindhoven and I must say my new neighborhood is more quite indeed 🙂
    Nice one!

  • Yes, I always have a problem with mapping something spatial (a city) onto something temporal (music). The promise or at least implication is always that you are somehow hearing whatever it was, but of course it doesn't deliver that. Well I guess if some time based major cataclysmic event were to befall the city from the same direction then I guess there might be some feeling of translation. …Now that I think about it maybe someone should design a city on the basis of it playing wonderful sounding music.

  • frankie d

    I think to get an accurate musical representation of the city he needs to find a way to hit both the white and the black keys, not just the white ones.

  • Interesting way to represent the data visually as well as tonally. I enjoy out of the box things such as this.

  • Barbara Barron

    I enjoyed the music and the comments, to take it further away from black keys, why not use microtones, (difficult) or a prepared piano. Texture and timbre could be varied. The analogy between the spatial and the temporal is probably quite weak as such, although I'm not going to be able to name a street from the music why should I need to?
    John Cage move over?

  • I think the true measure of this idea will come if someone does the same thing with a different city. I wonder what Manhattan would sound like, compared to this.

  • Peter Kirn

    Careful, the Manhattan skyline might break the piano. 😉

    A score is a combination of the spatial and temporal, but that doesn't make the translation any less challenging (or interesting)

  • Brian Tuley

    I love it.  Great as an art installation.  Very amusing.  Sounds like Schoenberg at the piano.  If it where me, I'd place long spike/nails on the wheel disk in a particular pattern so as to trigger the piano similar to the workings of a music box.  One could achieve better musicality that way, but that's probably not the initial goal in the first place.  Great sculpture!

  • Paul

    This is what happens when Metasynth is so expensive..

  • @Paul, hahaha funny point. Software prices causing the sort of tabula rasa that would lead to this sort of idea. No mention of the price of putting together that sculpture, including the piano though? 😛

  • Anonymous

    A creative idea, by someone with good artistic vision but ultimately unmusical and forgettable. It’s sort of like the Kanye West of piano music.

  • Anonymous

    A creative idea, by someone with good artistic vision but ultimately unmusical and forgettable. It’s sort of like the Kanye West of piano music.