Decibels Challenge: Objects Launched Into Space

Decibels Challenge: Objects Launched Into Space

Decibels, the sonification community that I founded, runs a monthly challenge where a dataset or other assignment is provided and participants have two weeks to create a data sonification.

The latest challenge was set by Ben Cooley. He picked Our World in Data's Objects Launched into Space dataset.

I processed the data in Google Sheets to sort different countries into continental groups, making it a little easier to parse (as the original dataset had about 100 countries).

Then I wrote a bunch of Sonic Pi code for the actual sonification - I picked a diminished seventh chord, and replicated it over two octaves to get eight different notes - then assigned one to each continental group. I also picked a different pan position for each group.

If a continent launched a satellite in a given year, its note plays - with a low-pass filter applied to a saw wave. The more launches, the more open (and harsher sounding) the sound.

Finally, I added a bass note every four beats for musical interest, and then added a tonne of samples from Nasa's Soundcloud - including a bunch of clips from a conversation over one of the first communications satellites.

Here's the track:

I'm fairly happy with the result. It feels "spacey". The trend in the overall dataset is pretty clear - in the sense that the chord gets more complex over time as more continents start launching satellites, and very harsh near the end as the number of launches increases sharply.

I'm not sure it's quite as musical as I'd like to to be, and it's not at all clear to the listener where they are in the timeline of the data. Nor does it deliver much more subtlety than "the number of satellites has recently increased a lot". But the deadline has arrived and this is where I got to, so that's that!

If you'd like to participate in future challenges, then come join us in Decibels!

A data sonification community