Saturday, March 31, 2012

Harmony and dissonance: More on the singing roads

When I developed the "Science is Fun!" activity discussed below, I should have known that Honda's Musical Road in Lancaster was not the only musical road in the world.

It turns out there at least four. And there's a web page devoted to the phenomenon. It's part of the Sound Tourism website. Want to drive them all? Pack your bags! Here's where they are:

1. Lancaster, California, USA, Musical Road - "William Tell Overture"
2. Melody Road, Japan - "Memories of Summer"
3. Anyang, Gyeonggi, South Korea - "Mary Had a Little Lamb"
4. Gylling, Denmark, Asphaltophone

There's a nice "video jukebox" on the page that allows visitors to see news clips relating to each of the roads.

If you listen to the Musical Road as depicted on the 2009 Honda Civic Musical Road ad, you hear one version of tarmac William Tell Overture.

If you listen to posted YouTube videos of "regular folk" driving the Musical Road in Lancaster, the tune is significantly different. And not for the better.

Did Honda autotune the road song for their ad?

According to the Musical Road page on Wikipedia, the Lancaster's tuneful tarmac was moved from one location to another due to complaints of local residents about the noise.

The timeline was as follows: in early September of 2008, Honda's Musical Road opened. In late September, it was paved over. In mid-October, the musical road was reconstructed in a location farther from residents. Perhaps the September road was better and the October road was worse.

The location shown in the Honda ad appears remote; the location in the YouTube videos appears remote. But the tune in the everyman videos is quite off.

The Wiki page review is less kind: "The rhythm is recognizable, but the pitches are so far off that the melody bears only a slight resemblance to the William Tell Overture. ... It is likely the designers made a systematic miscalculation which affected all the groove spacings."

And that was the review of the "good" version from the ad. My own take is more forgiving. Remember, it's not that the talking dog speaks well, it's that he speaks at all.

UPDATE: Sound files offered as evidence of Honda's auto-tuning.

User Finale (with a 20% speed increase to match Honda's higher-speed pitch)

UPDATE: This one appears to be in the new location. And the banter between our investigators is too cute not to include. It sounds that same as the "original" road, with the same off-off-notes, so I'm sticking to my theory that Honda auto-tuned certain notes in their TV ad.


Casey O'Hara said...

Why would you think there's any auto tuning going on? The Honda version and "regular folk" version are the same tune, both wrong but in the same way; but the Honda ad has a higher tempo - the car is probably going faster, thus the pitch is noticeably higher.

Sounds like it's a minor 3rd higher, three semitones, so the frequency is (2^(1/12))^3 times as much, therefore the speed is also faster by that same amount... in the "regular folk" version, he's going 58 mph, so the Honda ad they'd need to be going about 69 mph.

In both videos, the tune is just plain wrong (but wrong in the same way). Next time Honda, get some non-tone-deaf people to make your musical road. Call me, I'll help you out, my rates are very reasonable.

Also, a casual glance at the landmarks shows that both videos were taken in the same spot.

For a more entertaining musical road (with all types of musical instruments represented), check out this OK Go video:

Dean Baird said...

I agree that even in its best portrayal (the Honda TV ad), the tones are wrong.

But I would ask that you listen to both again, paying particular attention to the notes in bold italics in my representation below.

123 123 12345
123 123 12345 [flat compared to TV ad]
123 123 12345
123333 12345 [in the ad, 1 and 2 are the same note as upcoming 3]

Casey O'Hara said...

You're right - I didn't listen that close the first time. Somebody fudged their data! but really, when it's that far off, why even bother with fixing two notes?

The new one you posted (of the new road) is still overall way off, and has different off notes - you think they would have, you know, done it better the second time around...

But all things considered, very cool physics even if the execution leaves something to be desired.