Alon Chitayat
Jeffrey Ong

Subway Stories

An interactive storytelling installation exploring the inner-lives of commuters in New York City.

Introduction to Computational Media,Introduction to Physical Computing

“Subway Stories” is an interactive subway simulator exploring the inner-lives of commuters in New York City.

Living in New York City, many of us spend hours a day below ground. Hundreds of thousands of people commute via the subway -- an apparently “interactive” experience when you consider the collisions that happen daily. But if you’ve ever spent significant time on subways, you begin to realize it's often an isolating experience — one of the last frontiers where cell phone service and networks are still absent, leaving its inhabitants to their own conversations, music, and inner-thoughts. Like a horizontal elevator, passengers anxiously wait for their stop, acutely aware of their temporary "neighbors".

What of the judgments we make about those around us in places such as a subway car? The passing encounters, the conversations, the music, the thoughts of our temporary neighbors? Through an interactive storytelling environment, “Subway Stories” invites users to reconsider the seemingly ordinary and daily experience of commuting. Using two handles for the camera zoom and train speed, a user controls the position of the adjacent car from which the camera peers into the subway on screen. Passengers have accompanying thoughts and sounds that play when the camera is focused on them. Our hope is to communicate that the passengers are sharing their subconscious and inner-thoughts, creating an intimate experience between the user and the subway — bridging the gap between the isolating experience of public spaces with the power of stories and reconsidering those ones immediately around us.

The project began with hand-drawn illustrations made only on subway rides across the city.

All sound recordings were done in a “stream of consciousness” sort of style — showing the speaker a single illustration and having them speak their thoughts out loud, in first person narrative. The process is similar to what one might experience looking at someone else on the subway and imagining who they are, where they’re from, what they may or may not be thinking about.

- People familiar with the experience of taking public transportation and subways specifically.

- Storytellers

User Scenario
A user is drawn in by the projected visuals of the train and its passengers. The controller box and headphones sit on a small raised table below the screen / projection. Putting the headphones on, the user is drawn into the world of exploring the stories by zooming in and out, accelerating and decelerating the “train” that she’s viewing from. The experience lasts a few minutes, as certain stories / sounds pique the user’s interest. She is left thinking about people she may have encountered or been made curious by on past subway rides.

- Illustrations hand drawn by Alon Chitayat during various subway rides in his time living in NYC, 2013.

- Audio content recorded with all ITP students.

- Handles controlled by Arduino.

- Visuals created in Processing using various 3D elements and camera manipulation.

- Audio processing handled in Max / MSP.

The project produces an experience of dual layered representation. The first representation is a translation of the subway rider onto my sketchbook . It's based on his expression , body posture and details on his body. Alongside these there is a clear implication of myself as an artist about the character created on the page.

The second is the representation of the people who have recorded for us the soundtrack of thoughts . We asked them to look to one of the passengers . In some cases they chose the registry themselves , others asked us to choose one of them. The guidance given to them was to imagine that the passenger and speak their thoughts in the first person as if they are traveling by train. The result is a mixture of three people simultaneously: the original rider, the sketcher and the narrator.