“The Chime” Creates Music from Urban Sounds

Marc De Pape’s electronic musical instrument, The Chime, responds in real time to its urban surroundings, turning the bustling noise of the city into beautiful music.  The Chime pays close attention to what we usually ignore or block out in our city environment: the murmur of crowds, car horns, the steady hum of the busy streets.  18 sensors measure 27 parameters and allow The Chime to translate all this noise from the physical world into data, which is then translated and organized by a computer algorithm to create a coherent musical composition.  The chaos of the urban jungle is harnessed and represented in sounds that we understand as music.

The Chime, as its name implies, was inspired by wind chimes.  Wind chimes accomplish the same task as The Chime, but on a simpler scale and with a physical, rather than electronic medium.  Wind chimes collect data (the wind) from their local environment, and translate it into musical sounds by means of a physical, rather than computational process.  In the case of wind chimes, the actual sounds that are produced from the wind data are determined by the length, thickness, and material of the chimes, which are preset and controlled by the designer of the instrument.  The chime designer is essentially telling the instrument what kinds of sounds to make when a certain thing happens (the wind blows).  De Pape’s electronic Chime operates on the same principles.  The designer/composer tells the instrument what to do (make certain kinds of sounds) when it collects certain data from its environment through its sensors.

Much of the creative process in designing an instrument such as The Chime involves the development of this algorithm; this is what gives the instrument or piece its characteristic sound. The neat thing about this process is that each time the instrument “performs,” the result will be different, based on the variation in its local surroundings and the data it collects, but at the same time, there will be a consistent sound that identifies the instrument across each of its unique performances.

You can watch all of the The Chime’s performances here