Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
As the 2 train runs through neighborhoods of varying income, this musical data viz changes its tune and tempo.
Hey, remember when LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy tried to make music out of the NYC subway? That's sort of what artist-slash-programmer Brian Foo has done as a part of a new musical data-viz project. Foo translated the full 1.5-hour journey of New York City's 2 train into a 4.5-minute song that rises and falls depending on the income of the neighborhood the subway passes through.
"Stylistically, I want the song to exhibit the energy and orderly chaos of the NYC subway system itself," Foo writes.
And it kind of does, take a listen:
Foo was inspired by the Inequality and New York Subway project by the New Yorker magazine (which also inspired similar data visualizations for other cities). But instead of making a graph about it, he made music. He grabbed musical ingredients from compositions that capture both New York's dynamism and the train itself, then mixed them with a variety of instruments from different music samples:
Foo split his tune into 48 segments—one for each of the legs between stops on the 2 train. The loudest part of the song happens around 1:37, in the segment that mirrors the stretch between Park Place and Chambers Street in the high-income Financial District. The softest/poorest part (3:53) is in the Bronx—between East 180 St. and Bronx Park East. In real life, that section has a median income that's roughly 7 percent of the richest segment of the stretch in the Financial District.
Foo intends to release this and other data-driven music projects in an album. Meanwhile, if any programming/music nerds/enthusiasts out there want to build a similar song with the train they take to work, here's how.