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Take the A Train (HTML5 Edition)

Google engineer Alexander Chen + HTML5 + NYC subway scheduling equals sonic art using tension in the line.

The video above is just a sampling of the sonic magic available live on the Conductor site ( which “turns the New York subway system into an interactive string instrument. Using the MTA’s actual subway schedule, the piece begins in realtime by spawning trains which departed in the last minute, then continues accelerating through a 24 hour loop.”

But hey, no “holding the doors” improv, okay?

[via waxy]


  1. The NYC subway system is the oldest and most dilapidated of any major city in the world. It is plagued with massive breakdowns, litter, rodents, and crime. A German I met who worked in the city told the story that when he first arrived in New York he thought the entrance to one of the stations was actually part of the sewage system due to the strong smell of urine emanating from it. It can take almost as much time to use the subway to get from Queens to Brooklyn as it takes to take the train to Baltimore. Repairs are often very slow because the system is so old that parts like rail switches have to be hand made.
    And yet the NYC subway provides 1.579 billion rides/year, averaging over five million on weekdays, 2.9 million on Saturdays, and 2.2 million on Sundays. The passengers are mostly working class people. The better off takes cabs when at all possible. I also notice that the nicest stations are where the wealthy live. Stations in the poorer areas are allowed to rot to hell. New York is the richest city in the world, and yet it can’t find the resources to remedy create a modern subway system.
    So I wonder why this issue isn’t addressed by artists. A lot of interesting art and social commentary could be focused on such a grotesquely absurd situation. A photo exhibit of the appalling dilapidation might be a start, or perhaps an electronic composition featuring the horrific and deafening noise the cars often make. Such works would seem like something out of Dante’s Inferno, but New Yorkers are conditioned to simply accept these conditions.
    Molly adds: That said, compared to the sparse public transit situation here in Baltimore (or the two-hour delay on my AMTRAK ride home last night, for that matter) there is a warm place in my heart for the massive NYC system–usually strongest when I’m not actually there using it, but still.

  2. I think the dilapidation of the subway in New York is related to the lack of mass transit systems in most other American cities – including the problems with Amtrack. Whether it is mass transit, national health insurance, or public arts funding, we have developed a mindset that rejects communal projects that serve the common good. It has gotten to the point where we lack even the basic infrastructures that most other developed countries have.

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