The Davis Square Symphony

DSS Grab


The Davis Square Symphony is supported in part by a grant from the Somerville Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and The Awesome Foundation. It is part of Miller’s installation “Transforming the Prosaic: The Davis Square Symphony and Modified Vinyl” at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, which opened March 14, and was immediately closed due to COVID-19. The BMAC show is likely to be extended into Oct.

It is also very likely to become a virtual gallery, given that no one can come see the show at present. When The Davis Square Symphony becomes part of that virtual show, it will be posted on this page.

The Davis Square Symphony (2018) transforms traffic patterns in Davis Square, Somerville, MA, into an orchestral score.

I shot Davis Square from five different angles in the four different seasons and edited the film to be musical. Each season has its own harmony: spring is the most consonant, winter the most dissonant. Scored for full orchestra, vehicles become strings, pedestrians become wind instruments, bicycles become snare drums, etc.. Using a post-John Cage composition approach of my own devising, chords and motifs I could never have consciously planned appear in true beauty. The music is dictated by the initial conditions I created, and the mundane world of street traffic is transformed. 

The Davis Square Symphony is supported in part by a grant from the Somerville Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and a grant from the Awesome Foundation. Thanks to Somerville Cable Access Television, Jesse Kreitzer, Debra McLaughlin, and Joanne Kaliontzis.

It has been suggested that this idea can be applied to any location, not un-like Christo’s work. Like my other compositions utilizing natural phenomena (which traffic patterns ultimately are), the translation of the world into music can adapt to the situation at hand.

The techniques Miller used to generate the score are as follows:

Automobiles require a full string section.  Colors define either violin, viola, cello, or bass.  Using various grids superimposed on stills from the footage, the position of the car in space generates pitches.  For each vehicle, two pitches are generated: From the roof (higher pitch) and from the base of the car (lower pitch) above the road.  Volume (mf, mp, etc)  is based on size or distance ratios.

People utilize wind instruments (breath), and each individual generates two pitches.  Woodwinds were chosen for females, brass for males, flutes and piccolos for children.  Height from bottom of the foot to top of head controls the upper pitch, and distance from bottom of foot to waist controls the lower pitch, utilizing a grid.  When people are walking, the two pitches alternate. Volume (mf, mp, etc)  is based on color or distance ratios.

Bicycles, motorcycles and animals (dogs, birds, etc) are played by percussion.


Roger Clark Miller studied composition at California Institute of the Arts.  His setting of the Epic of Gilgamesh (commissioned by N.E.C.’s Callithumpian Consort) premiered at the New England Conservatory in Jordan Hall on Feb.18, 2016.  He is also the guitarist/vocalist in the highly acclaimed rock band Mission of Burma (July 2015 at Fenway Park with Foo Fighters) and keyboardist/composer in the equally, yet differently, acclaimed Alloy Orchestra.  Miller’s main Composer Page is HERE.


Roger in Graves’ Woods, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo Debra McLaughlin

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