Urban Audio, composing with traffic

Florian Tuercke

When R. Murray Shafer conducted the International Sound Preference Survey a few decades ago, traffic noise was categorized as one of the least appreciated sounds in the world, together with dentist drills and chalk squeaking on blackboard. Sound artist Florian Tuercke has been spending the last few years attempting to transform the ever-hated noise of traffic into harmonious music, taking up a challenge that could be compared to the alchemist’s goal of turning lead into gold.Urban Audio is an ongoing project of his which features a growing catalogue of instruments engineered to convert the vibrations generated by automobiles into modal music. His instruments, which have the sleek appearance of scientific measuring devices and are designed for maximum transportability and are a close relative to aeolian harps, with the difference that here the strings are not set in motion by wind, but by city traffic. In a series of tours throughout the United States and Germany, Florian Tuercke has turned himself into a new kind of street worker. In the many videos documenting his travels he can be seen wearing a reflective orange safety jacket, sitting patiently by the roadside, tapping into the ebb and flow of traffic with his instruments. In the latest edition of the project, several of his instruments are fitted with wireless transmitters and placed in multiple locations around a busy intersection. The switching of traffic lights and the resulting changes in traffic direction give rise to harmonic variations, releasing what Tuercke defines as the compositional potential of public space.

Matteo Marangoni