John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
A British designer wants to turn the noise of electric cars into a city-wide, experimental symphony.
What would a city sound like if everyone drove an electric car?
Absolutely silent, probably, with bursts of shouting and wet-meat-hitting-pavement noises as the perfectly quiet vehicles run down oblivious pedestrians. Nobody wants that.
Auto designers have long pondered what artificial sounds to give electric cars so people aren't always getting in accidents. Some folks prefer to mimic the revving of a gas engine, while others swap in a purring that would make sense coming from the throat of a "young Wookie."
But London-based designer Mark McKeague has other, more musical ideas. He wants to give cars the ability to emit different kinds of tones depending on their particular location, so that all the vehicles on the road would combine to create an ethereal symphony of electronic whirs and keening.
McKeague, who's studying design interactions at London's Royal College of Art (a modern-day breeder reactor for weird concepts), describes his vision for the future of commuting in this way:
I explore an alternative in which the sound that the cars generate changes according to its relationship to other road users and the environment. A traffic simulation is used to power the movement of vehicles through different sections of road networks in London. From a street level perspective the motions of traffic combine the sounds, creating soundscapes that are unique to the place and time. The roadside becomes a new context for sound - the city is the score.
Far out: It would be like living inside a store that sold only Theremins. There could be a problem, though, if the tones don't change when traffic freezes in gridlock. The droning beehive or hundreds of stopped cars could be enough to set off a mass riot of tire-iron windshield smashing.
This isn't the first time McKeague's pondered the potential soundtracks of society's mechanical helpers. He's also wondered what noises we should assign to domestic robots, with options that include stomping loudly, meowing like a happy kitty and sighing with frustration. (H/t to Co.DESIGN)