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Turning Street Noise Into a City Symphony

An MIT composer is collecting snippets of sound to turn Miami and Philadelphia into audio masterpieces.
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New World Symphony

It’s easy to disregard the hum of a city—the incessant honking or indistinct chattering—or to cast it off as noise pollution. There’s real concern that these sounds pose a health risk, but a handful of artists have a different take. To the likes of Tod Machover, a composer who combines music with technology at the MIT Media Lab, these sounds are what makes a city sing.

Machover has turned the sounds of Toronto and Edinburgh into symphonies that reflect the characters of each city. His first piece for an American city, Symphony in D, invited Detroiters in 2015 to contribute over 15,000 sounds unique to the city—drumming from the streets, sounds from factories, and spoken words by local poets—that were combined with instruments played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.