Sound and the Weather – Sonification

Our culture is cluttered with examples of quantitative and qualitative made visual. Flip through any New York Times or Wall Street Journal and you will find graphs, charts, and maps that visually explain anything from weather patterns to death tolls. We are in an age of mapping. While the history of mapping and visualization extends far into the past, encompassing very analog techniques for both collection of data and its depiction as an image, we have entered an era of big data and complexity that makes things like hand-made methods difficult if not impossible. Scroll to the bottom of this post for a variety of examples of visualizing data both big and small. A great resource for visualization is the site Visual Complexity

What does it mean though to make data audible? This is often referred to as Sonification.

What is Sonification? Sonification is the use of nonspeech audio to convey information. More specifically, sonification is the transformation of data relations into perceived relations in an acoustic signal for the purposes of facilitating communication or interpretation. – Sonification Report: Status of the Field and Research Agenda (1999) Or as read in Wikipedia Sonification is the use of non-speech audio to convey information or perceptualize data.[1]Auditory perception has advantages in temporal, amplitude, and frequency resolution that open possibilities as an alternative or complement to visualization techniques. For example, the rate of clicking of a Geiger counter conveys the level of radiation in the immediate vicinity of the device. –   Here are two examples that utilize techniques of Sonification, specifically capturing data from the weather, to artistic ends:

    1. Weather Guitar – Simon Blackmore Weather guitar is a robotic guitar player that responds to variations in weather conditions. The focus of this project is an attempt to draw parallels between the scientific inquiry of measuring and quantifying the natural elements, and the romantic notion of the weather acting as a source of artistic inspiration. More on –

    2. Cloud Piano – David Bowen “This installation plays the keys of a piano based on the movements and shapes of the clouds. A camera pointed at the sky captures video of the clouds. Custom software uses the video of the clouds in real-time to articulate a robotic device that presses the corresponding keys on the piano. The system is set in motion to function as if the clouds are pressing the keys on the piano as they move across the sky and change shape. The resulting sound is generated from the unique key patterns created by ethereal forms that build, sweep, fluctuate and dissipate in the sky.This installation was commissioned by L’assaut de la Menuiserie, Saint-Etienne, France and completed with support from the Visualization and Digital Imagining Lab and Weber Music Hall, University of Minnesota.”

cloud piano from david bowen on Vimeo.

  Images of data visualization

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