Traffic Sonata

The Traffic SONATA (Traffic Signal Operation with Neuro-fuzzy Acoustic Tuning Applications) project aims to apply principles of musical improvisation to traffic flow. By creating protocols through which traffic data is turned into sound (a process known as "sonification"), and by which musicians are able to affect the flow of traffic through musical action and interaction, the project offers an innovative perspective on transportation research and ultimately hope to contribute to developing more optimal systems of traffic control.

From September 2017 through April 2018, team members met on a bi-weekly basis to develop a computer interface to sonify data from VISSIM traffic simulation software. Team members created an interactive network-based system through which sensor data from VISSIM for a single traffic intersection were sonified into musical pitch, and which responded to musical input from musicians, which in turn controlled the traffic signal at the simulated intersection. 

Initial results from their experimentation with this system were promising. In preliminary testing comparing total traffic delay between the musician-controlled and algorithm-controlled intersection, two of the three musicians succeeded in outperforming VISSIM’s simulated traffic control. In addition, all three musicians performed better when responding to auditory cues from the system only (as compared to both visual and auditory cueing).

The following video (displayed at ICAT’s Open at the Source exhibit April-May 2018) of the team’s simulated setup includes audio of live performance on qanun, violin, and oud, accompanied by sonified traffic flow data and video of the corresponding traffic lights:

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The project was also featured (as multimedia composition) at the DISIS Faculty Concert on May 1, 2018.

This is the team’s initial foray into joining the worlds of traffic control and music. Future developments will include sonifying different types of data, experimenting with a wider variety of musical elements (pulse and rhythm, non-Western musical scales) in sonifying traffic data, and creating interactive games through which musicians become more adept at optimizing simulated traffic flows. Eventually, it is hoped that data collected from these musical experiments will inform a more harmonious approach to traffic operations.