It not a likely association: That of the New York subway system and an interactive string instrument. Add Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 subway diagram to the mix and you’re in for something audibly spectacular.
Enter Alexander Chen, a programmer and designer that used HTML 5 and Vignelli’s map to turn to the mass transit system into a playable musical instrument, Mta.me.
Mta.me is essentially an interactive NYC subway map that has been turned into a musical instrument with the transit lines as the strings.
So how it works is that the crossing train lines “pluck” each other’s strings. The subway map is an ideal instrument to pluck, thanks to the rectiliner design of Vignelli’s map. But the best part is the interactivity: users/viewers can also pluck at the strings with their mouse.
The behind-the-scenes bit is what makes this project even more interesting. Chen drew on the real-time subway schedule to guide his animation. He explains on his blog, that the piece “begins in realtime by spawning trains which departed in the last minute, then continues accelerating through a 24 hour loop”.
The map generates music, where the length of the train line determines the pitch, with longer strings playing lower notes.
Listen for yourself!