Music Map

Made by Abhishek Tayal

Created: September 15th, 2014


The Problem

The process of discovering new and exciting music is something all of us enjoy. Sometimes, a friend will tell us to check out a cool new record from his/her favourite band. Sometimes, we’ll hear something on the radio that we like. Sometimes we’ll go through the Top 40 charts to find what is popular. Recently, music recommendation services like Pandora and iTunes Radio, that will automatically generate a playlist based on your preferences have gained popularity. However, all of the above approaches are flawed in two crucial ways:

- Our identification, and subsequent memory of a song is largely through it’s name, as opposed to it’s sound, it’s meaning or it’s cultural significance.

- There is little to no geographic component to the entire discovery process, even though ‘where’ a song was written, recorded or enjoyed often has a huge impact on the song itself.

As such, such discovery approaches all tend to reduce songs to merely ‘tracks in a playlist’ that have often been sapped of their larger cultural significance.


The Idea

I’d like to propose an approach that intricately ties each song to a larger cultural canvas. Music Map, as it is called, illustrates musical preference in a geographic context. The default screen of the Music Map is a silhouette map of whatever country the user is in. Taking an analogy from the beautiful nighttime images of countries from outer space, in which densely populated areas are often brightly lit and rural areas are dimmer, the map will show areas of high music activity to be brightly lit and areas of lower music activity as dark. Besides this, there will be other more visual data on the map. The map of the US could possibly look something like the image below:


Hovering one’s mouse cursor over any given area would play a song that is currently popular in that given area. The name of the song that is playing WILL NOT be displayed. Furthermore, the map will be highly scalable and resizable. Using a search field, a user could zoom in from a Music Map of the US to one of say, Pittsburgh and get a better idea of the kinds of music that are popular in the different suburbs of the city. I imagine the college students that live in Oakland have very different tastes from the suburban families in the North Side. If one zooms into CMU, one may even find distinctly different musical preferences between the CFA building and Gates.

Using the Music Map will encourage people to discover and remember music based on more organic and wholesome criteria than tags like ‘Name’, ‘Artist’ and ‘Genre’. By not displaying the name of the song that is playing, or any other text whatsoever, and being so closely linked to geography, the Music Map makes the experience of music discovery much more personal, almost akin to hearing a song for the first time at a live performance.

The Music Map makes the experience of music discovery much more personal, almost akin to hearing a song for the first time at a live performance.

Data Collection and Interpretation

A large amount of Data on the musical preferences of different regions will have to be collected. Social media, streaming services, Radio, iTunes, CD sales and live events would all be monitored real time to arrive at estimates of the approximate number of plays each song receives in a given area. The song that plays if a user hovers over a given area will be randomly selected from the top 10 songs such played.



This idea directly borrows from Fernanda Viegas’s idea of a Wind Map. I’ve attempted to adapt that idea by making my representation audiovisual as opposed to purely visual, as audiovisual is better suited to the content of my map - music.

I was also influenced by Lozano-Hemmer’s Pulse Room. The pulse room’s data input is one of the most personal things there could be - one’s heartbeat. And yet, every heartbeat is lost in the cacophony of all the other heartbeats, thus discouraging an observer from picking out any one heartbeat to focus on. One’s musical taste is deeply personal as well. Even so, by taking something so personal and aggregating it with so many other people’s tastes, Music Map aspires to a similar effect as the Pulse Room.



The idea I presented in Lab to my group members on Friday was an entirely different one that revolved around using bluetooth enabled shoes with vibrators that that would nudge a user in a given direction using navigational data. I was told that while that idea was good, it was somewhat off-topic and didn't really illustrate any innovative means of representing data. As such, I started from scratch to come up with the idea presented above.