After 18 months of work, the first episode of my data sonification podcast, Loud Numbers, has been released. You can listen here:
Data sonification is the art of turning data into sound and, together with my co-host Miriam Quick, we've gone a step further turned five different data stories into music that you'd hit "play" on more than once.
Here's some blurb about the first episode from the show notes:
Every spring since 1916, the residents of Nenana, Alaska, have placed a tripod on the frozen Tanana river and placed bets on when the ice will melt, pulling it over. The measurement method has stayed the same over a century, making the competition records a valuable source of data for climatologists studying how the planet - and particularly the polar regions - are changing.
The Natural Lottery turns this climate data into a techno track. The higher the pitch of the chords in the track, the earlier the ice melted that year (using a 10-year moving average). These chords go up and down in pitch, but on the whole they get higher as the music progresses, showing the ice melting earlier and earlier as climate change in Nenana takes hold.
Two other data layers can be heard in the track. During the winter, the aurora borealis swirls through the skies of Alaska and its strength rises and falls in eleven-year sunspot cycles. These are sonified as an ethereal shimmer in the background, based on real data from the Royal Observatory of Belgium - the louder the sound, the more sunspots heard in a given month.
Then there’s CO2. In the background of the track, faint at first and louder and louder over time, you’ll hear a siren. The pitch of the siren represents carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, measured by the observatory at Mauna Loa in Hawaii.
They rise and fall each year as forests grow and die back in the northern hemisphere, which has more land. That’s why the pitch of the siren wobbles a little. But they also increase over time and rise to a worrying climax near the end of the track.
Finally, there are a whole lot of other musical elements that don’t represent any data. They’re just there to make the track sound good.
As well as listening to the podcast, you can also listen to the track on its own. I very much recommend adding it to your SUMMER HITS playlist, so you can use it as an excuse to talk about climate change with your friends:
Want more? Sign up to the Loud Numbers mailing list at loudnumbers.net, and you'll get an email every time we release a new episode.