Musical roads of the world.

January 19, 2009

Steen Krarup Jensen and Jakob Freud-Magnus building the Asphaltophone

Steen Krarup Jensen and Jakob Freud-Magnus building the Asphaltophone

back in the seventies novelty cereal packet gifts reached a zenith of inventiveness and surreality.My particular favourite was a sound player ‘toy’ – basically a strip of red plastic, shaped like a cable tie, with audio samples encoded into grooves in the strip. The idea was to fit one end to a hole in the empty cereal packet and run your fingernail along the strip at a constant speed. the cereal box acted as an sound box, amplifying the vibrations delighting the astonished breakfast audience with audio clips from history, if my memory serves me correctly, Chamberlain’s “…and here is the paper” and Churchill’s ” some chicken, some neck” amongst others.
The same technique can be applied to road surfaces – an evolution of the humble ‘rumble Strip’ that stop dozy drivers from swerving off the road. Voices and music can be encoded into the road surface using parallel corrugations at specific intervals (like the groove of a record stretched out) picked up by the vibrations in the wheel of the car. this phenomena was discovered during the 1950’s: 
“… kind of reminds me of a thing my father was involved with many years ago before I was born – in the early 1950’s. Goodyear Aerospace in Arizona (a division of Goodyear Tire and Rubber) made a road (test track) that had many parallel groves cut into it like groves of a record player. After the concrete road was poured, a big machine with many little grove making wires trailing behind it would go over the wet concrete and make many little parallel cuts in the concrete effectively making a “record track” for tires that traveled over it. 

The reason my father was involved was that he had a very low frequency loud voice that was perfect for recording messages that were to be sent to drivers driving over this road. When someone would drive over this road, their tires would act like the needle of a record player and would vibrate in time with my father’s voice that was scratched into the concrete sections of this road. There were simple test messages in the road like: “Stop ahead” and “Speed Limit 30 Miles Per Hour” and “You are driving off the road!” and “Wrong Way” that made no sense when driven over backwards. 

Goodyear tested it for many years and found out that: 1. It startled drivers way too much – . 2. It caused tires (of the time) to have less traction in wet weather conditions causing skidding. 3. Induced vibration in cars that led to skidding. With all of these reasons, Goodyear abandoned the project in the 60’s but the test track still exists somewhere near Phoenix Arizona as I vaguely remember my father driving my family around the thing when I was but a wee little kid. I remember his voice coming from the tires – very loudly and clearly I might add – with a slight echo in it because the front tire would play the track just ahead of the back tire – making it sound very GOD like and kind of spooky.”

During the 1960s The Disney corporation also experimented with the technique:
“Disney has an air strip called the STOL Port by the Magic Kingdom parking lot.The blip on STOL Port holds a lot of mystery and always has. STOL Port is quite a work of art if you know the secret. It was formed as not just an airstrip, but as a test ground for the property roads. It is laid out in sections that comes together at different in different lengths. As a plane lands and rolls over the connecting sections, the bumping from a single axle vehicle makes/plays Zip-a-dee-doo-da. The imagineer who thought of this was rumored to have wanted to do the roads like this, but people did not get it. It is guessed that the problem lay with 2 axle vehicles that distorted the melodies.” (from ‘Disney Secrets’ )

More recently the Musical Road phenomena has been used by artists, advertisers and as tourist attractions:

The Asphaltophone, Gylling, Denmark

The Asphaltophone

In 1995 the Danish artists Steen Krarup Jensen and Jakob Freud-Magnus created a version of the musical road called the ‘The Asphaltophone’ in Gylling, Østjylland, Denmark.

The Anyang singing Rd, Anyang, Korea

The Anyang Singing Road

Anyang, a suburb of Seoul built a ‘Singing Road’ in 2006 initially as an experiment in keeping tired drivers awake: Seung-Hwan Shin, manager of the Korean Highway Corp., said, “The road is located in a downhill, S-curved road, so there’s been lots of accidents from dozing and speeding.” (68% of Korean traffic fatalities are caused by tiredness, apparently) but has now become something of a tourist attraction. Approaching the road at 100km/h will give the sleepy driver a near accurate rendition of ‘Mary had a little lamb’.

Hokkaido Industrial Research’s ‘Melody Road’

Melody Road, Wakayama, Japan

Not to be outdone Shizuo Shinoda of the Hokkaido Industrial Research Institute in northern Japan in 2008 created three ‘Melody Roads’ each delivering thirty second interludes of japanese pop songs: one in Wakayama playing “Miagete goran yoru no hoshi wo” (“look up at the stars in the night” by Kyu Sakamoto ) if driven at 40km/hr, another in Gunma, which when driven over at 50 km/h reproduce “Memories of Summer” and one in Hokkaido (no song name supplied)

“You need to keep the car windows closed to hear well,” wrote one Japanese blogger. “Driving too fast will sound like playing fast forward, while driving around 12mph has a slow-motion effect, making you almost car sick.”


Civic Road, Lancaster, california, USA,

Honda Civic ‘Musical Road’

The Most recent application of audio road corrugation is the ‘Civic Musical Road’ developed as an advertising gimmick by Honda in 2008 in Lancaster, California. the original Musical Road played a version of the ‘William tell overture’ over a quarter mile stretch of the highway – but had to be paved over at the insistence of local residents tiring of nocturnal multi-vehicle reverberations of the lone ranger. The road was later re-located to Avenue G between 30th Street West and 40th Street West, beyond earshot of local residents:

“Take the 14 freeway to the Ave G exit and go west. Stay in the left lane and you will hear the road play the “William Tell
Overture” about a mile or so down the road…”



19 Responses to “Musical roads of the world.”

  1. palinode said

    It occurred to me once that such a thing was possible, but I didn’t realize that it had been done.

  2. Lillian said

    i had talkie tape before. i got it as an “award” of sorts in a high school chemistry class and we taped them to red solo cups. mine said “science is fun!”

    • i’m jealous. mine just say ‘merry christmas!, Happy new Year!, or Congratulations!’ in jaunty american cadences. for a couple of grand you can get a whole bunch of your own made…

  3. David said

    I’ve been telling people about those strips for years, usually to incredulous stares. Unfortunately, the only two I remember are the two you mention, “Here is the paper” and “Some chicken, some neck!”. Do you remember what the others were and what breakfast cereal they came free with? I’d love to get hold of them again!

  4. Trevor Cox said

    This is great and I’ve just used this information on my new website about Sonic Tourism. Do you know exactly where the Asphaltophone is?

  5. […] and physicist John Powell, author of How Music Works, at the NPR. Or for more musical roads, see Simon Crab’s collection. Share with the […]

  6. Laurence Wyche said

    In England a section of the M1 was known as ‘The Singing Motorway’ in the 1960s. In the past, an old yard brush was used to create grooves on the concrete surface of the road to improve grip. It created random grooves, no noise. Then a machine was used which created regular grooves. The sound would fill the car.

  7. Vanessa said

    Hi,Can you please tell me where you sourced the image of the ashphaltophone from. I am writing a unit for students on musical roads and would like to find the original copyright owner to see if I can reproduce it in a publication. Please, please can you email me to let me know! Thanks!

  8. rodney rodrigues said

    How can I make a musical sidewalk , using my skateboard instead of a car. I want to learn more about how to make the grooves for the song Wipout.

  9. Georgina said

    Hallelujah! Someone else who remembers the cereal free gift Some Chicken Some Neck rumble strip that my husbands thinks I dreamed up!!!!

  10. […] britannique. Tête chercheuse, à l’affût, ce monsieur m’a aussi mis sur la voie des routes chantantes. Oui, oui, tu peux aussi faire de la musique avec tes […]

  11. Lad said

    Talkie Tapes are available online.

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