Designing The Best Sounding City

Isle of Tune is a new city-building game with a musical twist. You start by designing the city with various elements (road sections, and road-side elements like houses, trees, flower pots and street lights) and put cars on the road. When the cars pass these road-side elements, it plays a certain tune or beat. The elements come with a choice of sounds it can make (and some other options like delayed play or double play of the sound) but not all elements can produce the same sounds. So the challenge is to design the best sounding city!

In the last years, there have been multiple engagements with using the urban space as a sound library for creating user-driven real-time music. For example, the Sonic City project designed special suits with embedded sensors, which allows the wearer to use the geo-location and body gestures to control the kind of music being played through the headphones. Other initiatives such as Our City, Our Music produced a series of geo-coded music and music videos which can be listened/seen on GPS enabled handheld devices only when the user goes to a certain location within the city.

More archive-oriented projects such as [murmur] recorded and mapped urban murmurs/stories and archived them for online viewing (check out their page on Little India in Toronto), while Teri Rueb’s Surfacing 2005 project archived environmental sounds (from both surface elements like trees and animals and objects found underground) in Berlin Tiergarten and created a sound installation where the GPS carrying user can take a walk through the environmental soundscape as well. In a recent sound installation at Jaaga in Bangalore, Andreas Otto created a car simulation setup where the driver can use the driving wheel and pedals (and the speed of the car) to play amplified street sounds, and to musically reclaim the (simulated) Indian street. Check out the video below:

But the Isle of Tune takes a very different approach. Instead of taking the built/environmental setting of the city as a pre-given starting point for the urban musician, as an existing library of sounds from which the user can draw sound elements and create his/her own music, in the Isle of Tune game the city building process itself becomes the process of music arrangement. What if we start designing cities so that they not only look good, or nice to live in, or are ecologically sustainable, but they also sound good? Can Musical Urbanism be a new paradigm of city making?

Note: Thanks to Rahul Gonsalves.