Listening to data

Have you ever thought about taking data points and creating music with them? This is exactly what Mark Ballora does.

Ballora, a Penn State associate professor of music technology, translates data into music — also known as data sonification. He does this in part to emphasize that data may be interpreted aurally as well as visually.

As described in an earlier post this week, Ballora sonified Penn State Polar Center director Eric Post’s research on phenology and caribou and muskox populations. Phenology is the study of the timing of seasonal events — such as the onset of spring flowering or the arrival of migratory birds.

Ballora tracked five different pieces of information in this sonification, all relating to a specific area in Greenland that Post studies: the passage of time, the growth rate of plants, the appearance of caribou, the maximum caribou population for each year, and the appearance of muskox. The appearances of the caribou and muskox were measured by the daily percentage of the maximum population for that year and the plants were the food source for the animals.

In the following video, you can see the data Ballora worked with and hear the sonification he created. Be patient, the audio starts at about 25 seconds into the video.

If you enjoyed this, you can check out the data sonification Ballora produced for last year’s Polar Day of Arctic squirrels’ body temperature, as well as a post we published a few years ago about the work Ballora did with the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart.

And definitely check out his TEDxPSU talk.

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