James Murphy is Turning Tennis into Tunes

James Murphy is Turning Tennis into TunesCourtesy of condenast.co.uk

If you think you know what a tennis match sounds like, think again. Former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy has teamed up with IBM on a new project, turning raw score data from 2014 U.S. Open matches into over 400 hours of electronic music/noise (you be the judge).

“I’m not writing music,” says Murphy. “I’m generating probabilities for music.” The algorithm he has been concocting takes the various situations that can occur during a tennis match, such as fault, point, ace, or second serve, and transforms them into corresponding electronic tones. As a result, each tennis match mathematically creates its own little symphony based on the course of the game. Even more mystifying is the fact that the music is being generated live throughout the matches, so you can listen to it as you watch. Perhaps it won’t be long before we’re watching other sports with a custom soundtrack as well.

While some have praised his new project as an ingenious way to change the way we think about athletics and music, others have called it a waste of time, describing the music as “bleepy” and “lurching”. But no matter how you feel about it, Murphy’s project definitely raises some interesting questions. What is the distinction between music and noise? If it is generated solely by a computer, is it still music? Does this mean any collection of sounds can be mathematically transformed into music? Like the buzz of a busy restaurant, or the racket of honks and sirens in rush hour traffic?

It’s hard to say, but we do know one thing: James Murphy is fed up with everyday noise. This isn’t the first time he has tried to change random commotion into music. Earlier this year, he made an effort to replace the discordant beeps of the New York City subway turnstiles with soothing xylophone tones. He describes the intricacies of the project below:

“What I propose to do is to create a series of 3 to 5 note sequences, all unique, one for each station in the subway system.  These sequences will be part of an intersecting larger piece of music, which would run from station to station, and cross one another as, say, the 4, 5, 6 line (one musical piece) intersects with the L, N, R, Q and W (another musical piece) at Union Square.  At each turnstile in Union Square, as you tap your new tap and ride card, a pleasant bell tone will sound, in one of a set of possible notes, all related to that station’s note sequence.  The effect would be that at the busiest times, like rush hour, what was once cacophony would now be music.”

Despite his growing petition, and the all-around loveliness of this idea, the MTA has stated that they “really don’t care.” If you do, you can check out this sample of Murphy’s subway music and sign the petition here.

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