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Why would anyone listen to the sound of traffic (data)?

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Published on Thursday, 24 November 2022

Most of the people that work or live in Belval will have no trouble coming up with a personal story related to traffic in or around the site from their day-to-day life – and many of these stories will be related to (mostly annoying) traffic jams. But of course, our individual experience is just one small bit of the entire picture – if one tries to look not only at rush hours and busy times but instead widens the scope to what traffic looks – or better – sounds like 24/7 throughout a few weeks or months, one might be surprised by the variety of interesting patterns of speed, volume, density, or saturation which emerge as time passes. And these patterns can be very inspiring for musicians.

This notion was the outset for Oliver Glassl (University of Luxembourg) and Emmanuel Defay (LIST) in the early days of The Sound of Data, a collaborative cultural project in the framework of Esch22: “We wanted to do something related to our research and at the same time to the infrastructure in the Belval area,” says Emmanuel: “Since we work with piezoelectric materials here in our research team, we came up with the idea to use these piezoelectric materials to collect sounds from vehicles,” the researcher explains. 

Like this, Emmanuel and his team collected more than 1,500 continuous hours of traffic sounds on the A4 and the B40, the former leading towards Belval, the latter going past the University, LIST, and FNR to eventually reach the Rockhal – which are the institutions who collaboratively manage The Sound of Data. To also add data to these sounds that describes traffic more profoundly, Oliver collected traffic information using a publicly available interface which provides quantitative data from numerous sensors on Luxembourgish streets, including the A4 and the B40 that send out a signal as soon as a vehicle passes them.

With the support of Arnaud Mazier, he collected one data set per hour over a period of around 10 months – resulting in almost 200,000 lines of different data points (e.g., location, average speed, traffic density, traffic saturation).  All of this material was now given to Chris Reitz a.k.a All Reitz Reserved, SpudBencer, Tessy Troes, and the Theerens Cousins, who are currently converting these data sets into music using sonification, a method that creates sounds, melodies and harmonies which are determined by selected data points. “We don’t want to perceive traffic only as a burden, but also show that this omnipresent topic of modern societies can be meaningfully reflected in music” Oliver says.

Now, we cannot wait to hear what this will sound like. If you also want to find out, come to Rockhal on on December 3rd, where all of their works will be presented during the final show of The Sound of Data.

Grab your ticket here.