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Sounds for Driving: Europcar Uses Research to Make Songs for the Road

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Sounds for Driving is a new project based on the sentiments that music and cars go hand-in-hand.

Years ago, we made mix tapes that followed our journeys with songs. Now, iPods do the trick. You have the songs that best fit long treks down open roads and the ones best suited for the frustration of the morning commute. If you live in a city where a two-hour, 20-mile commute isn’t unusual, then you know the importance of having good music on hand is crucial to the journey.

As traffic ebbs and flows during the course of the day, the sounds of the streets and freeways changes. At the ugliest intersections during rush hour, you hear the volume of car radios rise to a peak. Everyone is trying to drown out the sounds of honking horns and profanities. Everyone is trying to forget that they have moved a foot in the last ten minutes.

Picking out music for our car rides is something we’ve done on our own for years because it made sense. Recently, Europcar, the European car rental company, got into the science of this phenomenon. With help from researcher Martin Ljungdahl Eriksson and producer Håkan Lidbo, they developed Sounds for Driving, a seven-track album that puts together pieces of music that best fit your driving needs. The album is streaming on Spotify.

Sounds for Driving takes research on how music affects mood and applies it to the needs of drivers. Each track is preceded by a brief introduction that explains how and why this song works for a specific situation. The narrator suggests that drivers play the music at a volume that’s only a bit louder than the engine, as research shows that high and low volumes can adversely affect concentration. That makes sense. Think about all the times you strained to hear the softly playing song while speeding down a freeway, or when you were oblivious to the rest of the road as you blasted your favorite song of the moment.

Håkan Lidbo crafted the drive-time tunes on Sounds for Driving. He’s a producer with good credibility in the electronic music world, having released records on beloved labels like Shitkatapult and Pokerflat. He also won a Depeche Mode remix contest a few years ago. The music here is electronic and, occasionally, dance-y, but it leans more towards underground clubs rather than the Electric Daisy Carnival sound. This is similar to what I normally play in the car, so I absolutely plan on testing out Sounds for Driving on the road. If you’re not into this sort of music, the album might not work for you, but give it a shot.

The ideas on Sounds for Driving are intriguing and the way Lidbo incorporates the ambient sounds of typical surroundings into the music is a nice touch. For “Country Road Driving,” there are sounds of birds chirping, insects buzzing and more reproductions of natural elements. There’s a purpose for this too. It’s a constant reminder of where you are and how you need to keep eyes on the road in case a deer or skunk crosses your path.  In “On the Road Finally,” there’s the sound of an engine purr, as well as whistling. The narrator says that this is to “boost the feeling of freedom” that comes with the experience of a road trip. It plays on the natural excitement that comes with the knowledge that vacation starts now.

All of the music on Sounds for Driving is meant to heighten awareness in situations where that might slip. “Night Time Driving” changes tempo because, as the narrator notes, “challenging music” prompts the production of dopamine, which can keep a driver alert at 3 a.m. For “Long Distance Driving,” the piece alternates between ambient music and drum & bass to find a balance between soothing sounds that increase concentration and fast-paced ones that can change the perception of the length of the drive. “City Driving” uses a higher tempo than other pieces to keep drivers working at top levels of alertness. “Traffic Jam” is meant to relax those stuck in gridlock.

The coolest bit on Sounds for Driving, though, is the bonus track. It’s not listed as anything other than “Bonus Track” on Spotify, but the narrator introduces it with the line “Need to pee.” She stresses that this isn’t based on research. Instead it was created so that drivers can take their minds off of the relentless thoughts that they really have to pee and there is no bathroom for miles. If you’ve ever tried driving through the deserts of California, or got stuck in gridlock on an L.A. freeway after a couple cups of coffee, a track like this is imperative. Hopefully, it does the job.

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