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Community / Public space

What if you could listen to your street?

“Streetsequences” translates visual elements and attributes of a street into a musical experience. These streetsequences are a musical image of what we are experiencing when we walk on the sidewalk that tells us the story of our urban environment in a fascinating and surprising way that only music can achieve. Here, one of the artists describes the process.

We don´t really know what makes us like certain streets, blocks, neighbourhoods or cities. Is it architecture, urban structure, street activity, noise or simply the weather? What are the attributes actually perceived by us, and what is their contribution to the overall well-being of pedestrians in dense urban areas?

The few attempts to conduct focused research on those attributes of particular streets have either been quantitative and descriptive (e.g. tracing the paths of pedestrians) or laboratory-based studies (using images or videos). They’re therefore very distant to the actual space of interest.

I strongly agree with Jan Gehl’s idea that the key to these questions lies in the structure of ground floors. This is the space we move in and the space we actually notice when we are walking on a sidewalk. According to Gehl, pedestrians only register spaces up to 3m above floor level.


I don’t believe this is a controversial theory Just imagine walking along an endless walled condominium; now imagine walking along a narrowly structured ground floor with differently coloured and designed facades, windows, portals and so on.

What if you could listen to your street?

The experiment I am undertaking, together with the musician Tommy Philippaerts, translates these visual elements and attributes of a street into a musical experience. By translating the physical structure of ground floors and sidewalks into a music0scape, we are trying to amplify what we already perceive unconsciously to create a new, playful level that appeals to a different sense.

By doing so, we can maybe make these elements and attributes, that are defining our wellbeing on the streets, a bit more approachable and more enjoyable to analyse and compare.

The project is called “street sequencer” and combines my urban nerdiness with Tommy’s musical genius. My job is to choose a street that to me captures the feeling of the city. (There’s a question as to whether there exists “a typical street” in any city; but let’s just say that we have accepted and embraced the randomness of the project.) I then register and transcribe every physical element on one sidewalk of 100m length.

The author transcribes a street in Madrid.

I collected details of every window, colour change in walls, lamp post, shop, piece of public furniture, sidewalk width, and roughly 25 other attributes and elements in the ground floor area of that section of the street; then filled those details into an Excel sheet.

A snippet of an Excel Sheet.

From here, Tommy Philippaerts takes over. He translates the information into music by using the data like a Step Sequencer.

Step Sequencers are electronic musical instruments that play notes according to patterns in a grid – just like an Excel sheet. Using this method, each lamp post, shop or colour becomes a sound, a melody or an effect.

The street sequence in Ableton Live, a step sequencer.

The result is a little musical piece rooted in a certain street. It is a musical image of what we are experiencing when we walk on the sidewalk that tells us the story of our urban environment in a fascinating and surprising way that only music can achieve.

But enough explanation: this project is about listening. Here are some examples.

For more street sequences and more infos, check out our blog.

This article was originally published on Cities+, and appears here with permission.

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