In New York City, where the income gap is still large and looming among neighborhoods across the five boroughs, experts are constantly refining how to discuss the issue. Coming from a completely different angle is Brain Foo, an artist we previously covered in his project Continuous City, who recently created a song on his site “Data-Driven DJ” that explores income inequality through music. At 4 minutes and 45 seconds, Brian’s music track takes something as simple as a ride on New York City’s 2 train line and recreates it into a sonically inventive experience for music listeners.

Brian tells us “The logic behind choosing the 2 Train was that I wanted to cover as many boroughs as possible, so that automatically eliminated the trains which just served just one or two boroughs. About half were left after that. Second, I wanted to cover the length of Manhattan, so that brought it down to just a few stations. Then, looking at the income data, I wanted to choose the line with the greatest income inequality which would create the song with the most contrast. The 2 Train was the winner by far. The median income went from under $14K to over $200K.”

Here are some quick facts about how Brian constructed his musical piece.

  • New York City’s 2 train line is comprised of 49 stations that go through three of the five boroughs: The Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn
  • All three boroughs vary in median household income
  • Brian Foo’s song is comprised 48 different segments
  • The instruments used throughout the song either increase or decrease in bass and volume to reflect the median household income of a particular area
  • The loudest part of the song occurs in the Financial District in Manhattan (between Park Place and Chambers Street), an area that had a relatively high median income
  • The quietest part of the song occurs between the East 180th St and Bronx Park East subway stations in the Bronx, an area that had a relatively low median income.

Data Driven DJ 2 Train-NYC-MTA-Brian Foo-Continuous City

Brian will be creating one song a month until January 2016, exploring other issues like migration data, pollution data, and language data, but he’ll probably also do a song about the 4 line. Check it all out at Data-Driven DJ. See Brian’s work in the Continuous City, about a city that changes shape based on resident’s moods.

Read on for our Fun Maps column on re-imagining New York City’s subway system into concentric circles.