Canadian Project The Chime Turns the Apathy of Big City Noise into Harmonic Music

Having just graduated its very first cohort of students in Digital Futures—a graduate program which is an intersection between art, design, technology and entrepreneurship—the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU) has been developing the next generation of technologically-aware artists.

Recent grad and creative technologist Marc De Pape is a shining example. With a background that refuses to be pigeonholed, Marc is part designer, producer, musician and technologist, which contributed to his MDes thesis project “The Chime: Scoring the City,” a sensor-laden data recorder that churns ambient city activity into musical performances. Besides being on display at OCAD’s Graduate Gallery, The Chime has made guest appearances throughout the city, including highly trafficked tourist zone Nathan Philip Square and in the hustle bustle of the Financial District.  
 
We sat down with Marc who told Techvibes about the years of producing video for the ROM (his portfolio includes the Terracotta Warriors Exhibit), his former band Reverie Sound Revue, and the common thread in his work over the years since completing a Fine Arts degree from Concordia University.

“The link between my undergrad and now is kind of a technological skepticism,” explains Marc. “I’m much more interested in using technology in a human way as opposed to using it for functional efficiency.”

By taking a leaf from Georg Simmel’s notion of the Blasé (an indifference towards the difference between things), The Chime was inspired by the apathy big city folk experience in their daily routines.

“Routines aren’t inherently bad, but it’s your relationship to them, and one thing I try to emphasize is that true repetition is impossible,” describes Marc. “So the idea of music being generative is that while it’s following the same routine, if you pay attention—the details are different every time.”

In response, Marc created The Chime as an experiential piece to encourage city slickers to be more critical about the laziness they employ in the comfort of their routines.

 

 

So what exactly went into the making of The Chime? A brief overview: the project is comprised of an octagonal shell made of laser-cut acrylic that houses 16 sensors (four luminosity, four IR motion detectors, four ultrasonic proximity sensors and four microphones), which collaborate in recording all 27 parameters of data to an SD card once every 50 milliseconds. While the sensors are in place to measure and detect distance, motion, light and temperature, they work together with an embedded accelerometer (measures force), a gyroscope (measures angularvelocity) and a magnetometer (compass that measures magnetic fields) to capture data on the more physical elements such as a gust of wind or a speeding car.

Although it’s called The Chime, each sensor triggers diverse sounds from a variety of instruments. For example, while the proximity sensors might play a xylophone crescendo as someone comes close, the motion detectors would respond to a passerby with piano notes. And if The Chime was sitting on a busy street corner, the data collected from the high-volume of cars speeding past will play a string arrangement.

All of these elements work together to pull in data to Processing (an open-source programming language), which then passes on the processed data through Max For Live (music software) to an Ableton Live session (an audio workstation program commonly used by electronic musicians). When pitted against Marc’s pre-written musical rules, the data transforms into the final product which is a stunning myriad of strings, organs, chimes, piano and xylophone.

After capturing 14 performances on video and audio in both public and gallery settings, Marc is currently plugging away at a reiteration of The Chime, which will make its next public appearance at OCADU for Toronto’s massive sleepless art crawl Nuit Blanche.