Transit Maps Vol. 1

Osaka Metro




This was the last piece chronologically that I composed for this collection, and it has a completely different structure than any of the other pieces. While each transit line still has its own instrument, the structure is based on passengers traveling the railways rather than being based on the trains themselves. I would have never dared try this idea on the other maps, as it would be far too easy to lose track of where I was. Thankfully the Osaka map comes with handy station numbers, meaning I was able to not only keep track of my place, but add a lot more complex rules for how the piece was composed.


In this piece there are 5 passengers traveling the Osaka railways. Each one has a specific starting point, and a set of rules to follow as they travel the railways. These rules determine when passengers change trains at a transfer station, and what direction they go when they do so. They continue following these rules until they are at a point where they can no longer travel. I also constructed the rules in a way to make sure each station in the map would get visited by a passenger at least once.

As each passenger travels, there are several determining factors for how their journey is composed.

  1. Each passenger is given a cell of notes in a specific order, generally going up in pitch. While a passenger is traveling; if the station numbers are going up, the cell plays forward, if the station numbers are going down, the cell plays backward.

  2. The instrument used for this section of the journey, like all the other pieces, is determined by what line the passenger is traveling on. As always each line uses a different instrument.

  3. The rhythm or speed of the notes played is based on how high the number of the station is. Stations numbered between 8-15 get quarter notes, 16-22 get eighth notes, 23-29 get triplet eighth notes, and 30-35 get quintuplet sixteenth notes.

  4. The entire piece is written in 5/4, and each passenger gets their own beat and panning position in this measure. Passenger 1 is panned hard left and plays in beat 1, passenger 2 is panned 25 left and plays in beat two, and so on.

Click to see full image  (it’s really long!)

Click to see full image (it’s really long!)

The interesting thing about this piece is that, while it has many different rules, instruments, and compositional factors, no two instruments ever play at the same time. In theory a single instrumentalist , with a little octave transposition, could play all the parts in the entire piece in one go. (This would of course be very difficult.) The resulting piece ends up sounding very playful and almost frantic, like a bee who can’t decide what flower she wants to eat from. I was especially pleased with how this piece turned out considering that there was no way for me to know what it would sound like until it was completed. I’m considering using a modified and simplified version of this technique for future transit map pieces.