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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Play Your Way To Work With -- But Where's the SF Muni Version?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 8, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Looks like it's gonna be a tough race, but so far Conductor is narrowly edging out Freaky the Scary Snowman for "most weirdly therapeutic random Internet find of the week." A script designed by Alexander Chen -- perhaps you have heard the fetching electro-twee ditties he records as Boy In Static? -- Conductor uses route and schedule data from New York City's subway system to create a pseudo-random string instrument based on a sped-up run of the paths and speeds of its different train lines.

When two lines cross, a cello note is plucked (and the theretofore taut animated line makes a cute little vibro-wobble); the pitch of the note is determined by the length of the crossing line. "A complete chromatic scale was too dissonant," writes Chen. "Ultimately I settled on a simple major C scale but with the lowest note as a raised third E, which keeps it from ever feeling fully resolved."

Predictably, the cluster of notes starts to pick up steam around the morning and evening rush hours, although there are clumsy ways to bend the instrument to your will. (Pro tip: keep it open in at least two windows.) And look out for little touches like the ghost trains -- lines drawn by routes that the MTA has discontinued since the 1972 illustration on which Chen's graphical interface is based -- that run between midnight and 2 a.m.

So how 'bout it, S.F. Muniphiles -- where's the left coast equivalent?

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