Music feat. Data: Sonification of Science


By Allison Kubo Hutchison

Graphs are the bread and butter of scientists. We love them. Lines plots, bar graphs, line plots. Visual representations of data are the default on science. However, sonification, the transformation of data into sound rather than images has been gaining interest. One reason is that our ears actually have better time resolution than our eyes. This means we can hear more small changes over time than we can see. The eye only perceives a small range of frequencies — visible light — which ranges between 400-790 THz. However, hearing can pick our sounds over three orders of magnitude in the frequency space between 20 -20,000 Hz. We can also leverage both visual and aural aspects of data in combined animations and sonifications for work in science and in outreach and education.

One example of this is a recent paper published in Computer Music which sonified and animated the eruptions of the Lone Star Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. The coupled music and visuals helped scientists hear structures developing over time in seismic signals, tilt, and Infrared. Combined these complex data sets were transformed into sound using a variety of post-processing techniques so that each data type was distinguished by its acoustic properties. The sonification illustrated one of the interesting properties of Lone Star Geyser, its incredible reliability. Overlapping two eruption sonifications from 2010 and 2014 clearly shows the repeatable eruption cycle and structure.
Finally, the sonification of data is a way to incorporate art and science and reach the emotions behind the data. Often there is a false belief that the two cannot live in harmony although which may lead to abandoning one for the other. The rise of data sonification highlights the intense synthesis of two talents that can reveal amazing music and scientific insights.

APS Sonification PlayList:
An exploration of geyser eruptions through animation and sound:

Sonification of Soufrière Hills volcano dome collapse with violin accompaniment:

Hotel Kilauea:

800,000 years of solar insolation and CO2: 

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