The Bug #6: Sonification

Bug #6 sonification

If you are in the Boston area on Wednesday April 24th, please come hear me speak at the Tufts University Art Gallery. It’s at 12:15, and free and open to the public. I will not be there in person, but will  be teleported in via the magic of skype. Here is a sample of what I’ll be discussing – fiction and reality in the music of outer space. 

And part three of the lecture will be about sonification. So what IS sonification?

Sonification means taking non-audible data points and converting them into audible sound. Tonight I’ll I will be trying to explain why sonification is both exciting and misleading.

This can be as simple as taking a graphic a chart or a set of data points, and converting them to pitches which humans can hear. This can be as complicated as taking images from the Hubble space telescope and converting them into music. Or it can be as simple as a geiger counter. When a geiger counter detects radiation, it clicks an audio click. More radiation equates to faster clicking. Real-time sonification of data humans could not otherwise percieve.

Sonifications interpret non-musical information as sound. And anytime that humans hear sound, our brains will automatically try to make sense of it. And very often we will interpret sound as music.

Sonification gives us a chance to recognize patterns in otherwise in comprehensible data sets. This is very valuable. It also gives us the chance to relate things to each other which we would not be able to relate using our built-in five senses. 

Remember Pythagorus and his music of the Spheres? He was wrong about so much but right about one thing:

it turned out that planets do emit electromagnetic hums, which now have been recorded by Nasa. And it’s true, humans cannot hear them… (tune in for more, much more in this podcast about music and outer space!)

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