The Sounds of Manhattan

Creating music out of the architecture of Manhattan.


The question

Can we create music out of architecture?

I've been wondering this ever since my stint with architecture in high school. I'd walk past sky scrapers in New York and wonder if you could fly a helicopter over it...then turn the entire city into a series of notes.

Inspired by the theramin, I thought it would be awesome if you could shoot a beam down from a helicopter and get a frequency back based on distance.

My beautiful helicopter.

I eventually realized that using the tallest building as a reference point was probably not the best way to get a diverse range of sounds, so I switched to taking the ratio of each building's height and the median building height.


The results

I created this entire experiment  in Python and used a public Shapefile of Manhattan to parse through the data.

The Jupyter Notebook is available here.

Once I mathematically defined the relationships between frequency and note duration, I was able to produce the MIDI files associated with the processed data.

Testing on Wall Street

In the meantime while I don't have a proper data visualization (New Years is busy...) here is a recording of the MIDI roll in logic. I exported the MIDI file, threw on some synthesizers, and dropped everything 2 octaves to make it ~spooky~.


Wave Plot

Musical Score



Notice how the frequency ranges look eerily like buildings.


What's next?

I figure that if you can go from architecture -> music, you can also go from music -> architecture. Soon I'll expand this project by creating 3D generated models of cities based off of different music-- ranging from Beethoven and Mozart to Daft Punk. Perhaps cities in the future will be "culturally intelligent" and be able to rearrange themselves based on large events and themes.