Car composes Kraftwerkian music


Known Tom since he was an undergrad at MIT. He built a small wind turbine that was used in a traveling energy show for the Clamshell Alliance. It went from Maine to Washington DC, from Cape Cod to Pennsylvania and was seen by about a quarter of a million people.

He’s an inventive and engaged maker/thinker whose joy is sharing his deep understanding of tools and technology so that others can get that same feeling from knowing how to do things.

oh my. kraftwerk’s “debut album” was autobahn? maybe if you only consider stateside releases. that was actually their 4th album, and one that many considered too “commercial” when it appeared (chortle).

Neat that he can actually do this, but how is the resulting music distinguishable from connecting the inputs to, say, a random number generator? Yes, I get that there’s some sort of (tenuous) correlation between what the car is “experiencing” and what sound is being generated, but from what I see of the video it’s basically just noise.

The video and audio are not synchronized. The “music” is 100% car/driver data generated. I just took a few minutes of data from 1.5 hours of the log file (which was from the drive shown in the video), resampled the data at 1 Hz, scaled it to the range of musical notes, then mapped it to instruments. The audio is played with a random section of the video. The data and video is time stamped so if I had more time, I would have synchronized the video with the audio track.

What’s interesting musically is (a) many parameters are correlated, gas pedal/engine rpm/engine torque/car speed/fuel consumption, (b) the faster the rate of change of a sensor, the larger the musical interval due to the 1 Hz sub sampling, and © if a parameter doesn’t change, the note is sustained (or for percussion, the drum is hit once) which make for nice pauses and silences in the music, otherwise every instrument would be drowning out the other.

Outside of the music being car-related and synthesized, it doesn’t sound especially Kraftwerkian to me. I’ve no objection to process-driven music, but comparing that to something highly rhythmic and tightly composed isn’t fair to either.

It probably would be possible to generate music that more closely resembled Kraftwerk while still using input from the car to control it. That’s a more complicated programming problem, though. Simplest approach might be to do something similar to the “trance in a box” synth patches – preconstruct a whole bunch of patches that work well together and use the inputs to select combinations of them and apply modifiers.

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