Singing roads

Recently our esteemed blogger Raji posted a note on the musical happenings abounding in Chennai. Wistfully thinking of partaking in all those and desirous of seeing the spring event 'Thyagarajostava' some day, I recalled a newspaper report some months ago about singing roads. Yes, you did not read wrong, singing roads.

Now imagine you living by the roadside and a car speeds through and you hear refrains of say ‘enthoru mahaanu bhavulu’…how would that sound? Well that is roughly what this is all about. Specially constructed roads that emit musical tones as cars speed through.

The first of the musical roads in California was installed by Honda in Lancaster. When Honda cars went over it, it would hum the ‘William Tell’ or Lone Ranger Overture. The idea was to have it as a marketing campaign. I do not know if it was done for a limited time or if the locals have gone crazy with the tune after some months of hearing it. Japan who started the concept has a few melody roads and South Korea has one that plays ‘Mary had a little lamb’.

Basically what they do is put rumble strips with special spacing (narrower the strip – higher the pitch) so that you get different pitches. The interesting part is that it is designed for specific cars. In the case of the Lancaster road, it was designed for a Honda Civic’s tires and based on an average speed of 55mph. If you questioned what happened when other cars drove through it, the answer is you got other noises, which may or may not resemble a tune. Thus it became a nice Honda campaign targeted at users of the Civic, the young crowd.

The idea caught on, it is now filmed and popular on youtube, some people even tried other ideas like driving backward to see what happens (answer = vague noises like the devil singing). Lots of visitors drove by to experience the tunes and some residents have started going bonkers. Tourism to Lancaster increased. Now the city mayor is considering having various jingles on the road and charging companies for the advertising ‘roads’. Good idea actually - now that taxes have come down due to reduced house prices. Here is the Lancaster road experience..

How did it come about? Well, it started in Japan really - According to the Guardian: “the system was the brainchild of Shizuo Shinoda, who accidentally scraped some markings into a road with a bulldozer before driving over them and realizing that they helped to produce a variety of tones.” Spluch adds - With 68 percent of highway accidents in Korea caused by inattentive, sleeping or speeding drivers, the Korean Highway Corp., as well as the Hokkaido Industrial Research Institute in Japan, came up with the idea of musical road surfaces to keep motorists entertained but also to reduce their speed and help them stay alert.

Here is a link to the details of the Melody road in Japan – and another. Those interested in the Youtube video check this out.

If you want to hear it all in the words of the Honda Engineers, check out ‘The Civic project’ on Youtube. There are many more of related videos on the youtube, so check around and enjoy.
Of course the only problem would be hearing ‘enthopru mahaanu bhavulu’ the whole year around and at all times. I am sure that even if it sounded like Maharajapuram Santhanam or Dr Balamurali Krishna, it would be a little too much on your nerves…But I think a good idea would be to have Gayathri manthara or Suprabhatam instead.The gayathri manthra tune has come out as ring tones anyway.

Other articles
LA Times and another detailed one.
Pic from LA times article - thanks



Jo said...

Wow! What a cool concept!! Never heard about these singing roads before!

Unknown said...

I second that. WHat a cool concept!

Cynic in Wonderland said...

That is so cool! Though as you said, the residents are pretty much going to be climbing walls.


Really amazing! What next will they think up! Anything to do with music is fine with me.

And thanks, Maddy for the link and nice words.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for getting me informed.The suggestion contained in the last para will attract criticism from the so called seculars.

kallu said...

Really interesting post, Maddy. Though personally I would like to do it once and that's it.

Ashvin said...

Mr. PN Subramanian is right.

Vidyu said...

hmmm...that's interesting! would love to drive on those roads! :-)

Happy Kitten said...

This is the first time that I have heard of this concept.... amazing!

haven't woke up to "Suprabhatam" after my college days at TVM.. listening to it was truly comforting...

Anonymous said...

After Writer Sujatha.You are the only person,whom i have seen possesing knowledge across all awaiting for 2009 for even more knowledge scapes.Wishing you a Happy New year

Maddy said...

Thanks Joe, Narendra, Cynic and Raji.

Thanks PNS & Ashwin - As regards MSSL's intonation of Suprabhatam, it is one thing that many in Kerala and Tamilnadu have woken upto. So that was my implication rather than anything religious.

Thanks Kallu, HK & Vidyu the Lancaster road is directly across the country for you - but something will come up in the east soon, I am sure.

Aravind - That was very nice of you & thanks for stopping by. Plenty more to come in 2009 and please do visit often..


Jo said...

Wishing you all the very best in the new year Maddy!