Sonifying Scientific Data

A recurrent opinion when talking about Data Sonification and Spatialized audio is that of questioning whether this applications have an actual scientific expression or if they are solely art oriented. Related work points out that several practice have been done on developing models with these paradigms focused on scientific data and its display and analysis.

So far, people working on creating sound to display scientific data have followed the cues mentioned before, and have been sonifying different types of scientific data, such as DNA and RNA  (Cullen, 2006) particle physics experiments  (Vogt, 2008), with the philosophy of displaying data on an alternative manner, apart from the long established visual aids. A first approach for sonifying data is to help the monitoring of processes when the eyes are already focused on a certain task, or to let the visually impaired to witness a system.

As said on  (Vogt, 2008), the main goals of Sonification on a scientific world can root to the extension of data display, representing multi dimensional data sets, to analyze data as a complementary method, even crucial in some occasions. Finally, out of the scientific world, scientific data can be used to create art compositions.

In this last regard, creations that use scientific methods and/or data, accomplishing a functional display of information through Sonification, will almost always be easily considered artworks, due to the beauty inherent to nature expressed in them. So an accurate sonic representation of seismic data, like the one shown on  (, 2011), when built with some art like considerations, can both display and analyze significant portions of information and stand up for its aesthetic value.

As it seems, the best part of data Sonification is its capacity of displaying information in a way that can use the human hearing sense’s characteristic of exploring multidimensional signals at fast rates. However, there is an important difference between the multidimensionality that can be achieve by just mapping data into sound creation and the human capacity to perceive this relationships between factors or their change.

Discussed on  (Barrass, 2005), there is the need for Sonification designers to consider the perceptual characteristics of the listener and circumstances, so that the relationships between data sets that are sonified can be easily recognized as such.  So things like the Equal Loudness Contours would be analyzed when the gain of a sound is centrally used to display data. This means that if a quantized process is to be mapped into gain, quantized and progressive difference in loudness should be observed, so that equal changes in data are perceived as equal changes in gain.  This psychoacoustics point of view reminds us that the sound is ultimately being created to be perceived by our brain, so that what we know about how we intellect it is important on the design of perception focused sound synthesis.

What follows is to objectively measure the effectiveness and efficiency of the auditory display  (Pauletto, 2009).  The first one considered as a reflection of the quantity of errors made by the users during the execution of the Sound Display, and the later as a measure of the time invested to complete a certain task.  These measures can be altered by the data characteristics themselves, the Sonification algorithm and the path followed to interact with this data.  (Pauletto, 2009)

On the other hand, it is interesting how even in the art circles; a scientific approach is present on the creative process, as artist and technologist are now closer with the development of science. An example of this is the approach expressed by Lussius on  (Lossius, 2008), where the documentation of the design and creative process is a vital part of the development, following paths stated by the technology creators, such as interchange formats, namely SPATDIF, on OSC and so on.

This itself is a scientific modus operandi focused on the development of technology aimed on the art creation. Although what one can conclude from the art practice, as from  (Stefani & Mooney, 2009) is that most of the time, art makers are not aware of the increasing capabilities in technology applicable on sound composition.  So as a reply to the question at the beginning of this section is that this sort of models can not only be used for scientific purposes, but also for scientific oriented art practice.

Further on this chapter: