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Photo: Jared Davidson/Apt613

Artengine app provides responsive soundtracks to OC Transpo bus routes

By Jared Davidson on February 8, 2018

People in Ottawa can talk about busses as easily as the weather. As a topic for conversation, there’s nothing more relatable than a well-spun rider tale. One story prompts another and soon the whole room is opining on their favourite (or least favourite) routes and the subtle differences between each.

I still haven’t gotten over the legendary 2 being re-cast as the 11, and with more dramatic changes coming with the onset of LRT, now may be a good time to reflect on the experience of riding the bus. Well, as they used to say before it became horribly cliche, “there’s an app for that.”

Sonicity, a new project by the fine folks at Artengine, is a musical celebration of the unique flavour of specific OC Transpo bus lines. The app, which can be downloaded for free for Android and iOS devices, contains tracks by seven local artists that are meant to provide a soundtrack to your ride.

People wear headphones as a way to remove themselves from the experience of riding the bus.

The evocative, instrumental tracks for Sonicity were created by the likes of Boyhood, Philippe Charbonneau, Adam Saikaley, Mike Dubue, Ben Globerman, DJ Memetic and Nathanael Larochette, all accomplished local artists known for their experimental and unique styles.

Each was asked to choose a bus line that held personal meaning. The tracks reflect each artist’s experience of the bus route, synced by location. The tracks are a way to share the experience of bus riding, and to draw attention to what is interesting about each bus route on an emotional level.

A screen capture from the Sonicity App.

“People wear headphones as a way to remove themselves from the experience of riding the bus,” says Remco Volmer, Artengine’s managing director. “We thought, why don’t we flip that around and create a way for people to be more and more aware of their experience?”

DJ Memetic’s tracking for the 11 route is particularly evocative. He chose the route because it passes by many of the record stores he frequents to dig for samples. As the bus passes by each of these stores, the soundtrack changes to reflect the flavour of the collections available there.

Adam Saikaley’s scoring of the 95 route was inspired by his own history with the line: he used to ride it in its entirety every day, commuting from work to home.

Currently the app features scores for routes 6, 11, 14, 44, 86, 95, and 97, and while that covers a lot of ground and variation, there are tentative plans to include more routes.

“We’re looking at the app as a platform, rather than a finished product,” says Volmer, explaining that they are planning to reach out to more artists depending on the app’s reception. “We see this as a way of discovering local talent.”

While Sonicity has been available in beta for over 6 months, the official launch takes place this Saturday, February 10 at the National Arts Centre City Room from 4–6pm. The event is free and, in addition to live performances, attendees will be invited on a 30-minute silent disco bus ride, featuring a mix of the Sonicity tracks by Adam Saikaley.