It’s tempting to use earplugs to turn off your commute. But this fall, the new augmented reality (AR) smartphone app, A More Beautiful Journey, aims to help citizens tune in to the delights of the passing cityscape through music created specifically for more than two dozen TTC routes became.
The project started with an idea from musicians Dan Werb and Joseph Shabason. “We thought it would be cool to get ambient composers to write site-specific compositions that could be played in their local subway stations. Unfortunately, there were a lot of obstacles and that idea just died in the bud,” says Shabason. “But then we met Amy Gottung and we talked about how we could make that happen.”
Gottung, who recently worked on the pay-what-you-can all-ages music and art series Long Winter, signed on as a creative producer. “I don’t know if I could have survived the Dufferin years without headphones,” says Gottung. She knew that a smartphone/app/headphone combo could be key to the project’s success, so she asked audio solutions company Soundways to develop an AR app that could create what Shabason calls “an ever-changing soundscape for describes your journey to work”.
“Seeing the same neighborhood twice a day can be a real mental challenge,” says Shabason. “But seeing it with different pieces of music really helps change the way a commute feels like.”
27 acts with more than 50 musicians offered compositions in a variety of genres including ambient, jazz, hip-hop, psychedelic rock, reggae and R&B. “Justice was a priority,” says Gottung. “We wanted the artist roster to reflect the incredible diversity of Toronto, its neighborhoods and music scenes, with an emphasis on underrepresented communities.”
Bus and streetcar routes with accompanying soundtracks criss-cross the city, including 509 Harbourfront, 504 King, 94 Harbord, and 72 Pape. (Also night buses, including 320 Yonge, 312 St. Clair and 927 Highway 27 Express). The app launches on September 1st with a series of live concerts at five tram stops across the city as part of the experimental Intersection Music and Arts Festival and will be available until December 1st.
According to Gottung, artists were paired with lines that held personal meaning for them. “They bring deep familiarity and countless associations to their process,” she says. After designing the pieces, they matched the music files – or “sound zones” – to GPS coordinates.
Chelsea Stewart, for example, delivers ultra-smooth dubstep for an Eglinton ride through Little Jamaica, while Felipe Sena adds Brazilian beats to the Dufferin route. Some of the artists integrated field recordings from the areas they covered. Stefana Fratila used excerpts recorded in Roncesvalles and High Park in her college streetcar soundscape, allowing listeners to hear the popcorn machine as they pass near the Revue Theater, or birdsong as they follow the route in the park break up.
Craig Doyle Henry, aka CDH Live! and the multi-instrumentalist pieces for birthday children feature oral histories by residents of the Sherway and Bathurst Street boroughs. And the Community Music Schools of Toronto in Regent Park wove in the students’ vocal samples. These sound zones appear as small colored bubbles on a 2D map in the app, allowing users to navigate the route visually as well.
“The first work I tested,” says Gottung, “was for the 501 Queen tram, from Bay to Parliament, with a series of rousing live recordings by the All Nations Juniors, a drum group from the Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.
“I got chills hearing those first few beats.”