Chapter 7: Sonification Design and Aesthetics

by Stephen Barrass and Paul Vickers


This chapter addresses issues of functionality and aesthetics in sonification by advocating a design-oriented approach that integrates scientific and artistic methods and techniques. Design is an iterative practice-based discipline involving cycles of hypothesis testing and critical evaluation that aims for solutions to specific problems in context. The reviews design methods and practice in sonification and argues for a pragmatic information aesthetic that distinguishes sonification from computer music and psychoacoustics. It argues that the design approach can allow sonification to become a mass medium for the popular understanding and enjoyment of information in a non-verbal sonic form.

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Media Examples

Example S7.1: Concret PH Xenakis
Music composed using statistics and stochastic processes

media file S7.1
download: SHB-S7.1 (mp3, 5.9M)

Example S7.2: Pastoral 4th Movement Beethoven
An example of programme music in which a narrative is conveyed by the titles of the five movements. The musical telling of the story about peasants dancing under a tree climaxes with a dynamic orchestral rendering of a thunderstorm that is a precursor to film sound today.

media file S7.2
download: SHB-S7.2 (mp3, 3M)

Example S7.3: Ocean Buoy Sonification by Bob Sturm
This example is from Sturm’s CD of sonifications of ocean buoy spectral data titled Music from the Ocean.

media file S7.3
download: SHB-S7.3 (mp3, 7.2M)

Example S7.4: Weather Works by Andrea Polli
Andrea Polli made extensive use of sonification techniques in a public sound art installation on climate change.

media file S7.4
download: SHB-S7.4 (mp3, 1.5M)
source: Andrea Polli, Glenn Van Knowe, and Chuck Vara.
Atmospherics/Weatherworks, the Sonification of Metereological Data.
http://www.andreapolli. com/studio/atmospherics/.

Example S7.5: Iraq Body Count by G. Potard
Guillaume Potard’s sonification of the Iraq Body Count site also demonstrates that sonification can be a political medium.

media file S7.5
download: SHB-S7.5 (mp3, 7.5M)
source: Guillaume Potard. Guernica 2006. In Alberto de Campo, editor, Global Music – The World by Ear, the ICAD 2006 Concert, pages 210–216, London, UK, 20–23 June 2006. ISBN 0-902-23821-3 (CDROM) ISBN 0-902-23820-5 (online).

Example S7.6: Listening to the Mind Listening Contribution “Untidy Mind” by Tim Barrass
This is an example of one of the sonifications from the Listening to the Mind Listening concert. The call for submissions for the Listening to the Mind Listening concert of EEG data asked for sonifications that were “musically satisfying” whilst also being “data driven”.

media file S7.6
download: SHB-S7.6 (mp3, 7.2M)

Example S7.7: Sweatsonics Sinification
An example of a sonification of the acceleration of a rowing skiff to improve the performance of athletes. This example employed a sine-wave ‘Sinification’.

media file S7.7
download: SHB-S7.7 (mp3, 98k)

Example S7.8: Sweatsonics Vocalification
This time the rowing skiff data is sonified using a phase aligned vocal formant vocal pattern.

media file S7.8
download: SHB-S7.8 (mp3, 94k)

Example S7.9: Sweatsonics Wind Metaphor
Description: A wind metaphor is used in the skiff sonification.

media file S7.9
download: SHB-S7.9 (mp3, 106k)

Example S7.10: Sweatsonics Musicification
FM synthesis is used to create musical instruments which then sonify the skiff data.

media file S7.10
download: SHB-S7.10 (mp3, 102k)

Example S7.11: Sweatsonics Stream-Based-Sonification
Gestalt stream-based principles are used in this example to sonify the skiff data.

media file S7.11
download: SHB-S7.11 (mp3, 111k)