Category Archives: sonification

‘Hearing In’: Philosophical perspectives on sonification

I was invited to attend ‘Hearing In’ on Friday 10th October, a workshop organised by the Centre for the Study of the Senses, Institute of Philosophy, University of London. I was speaking about my work on sonification, alongside Chris Chafe (Stanford, US) and Paul Vickers (Northumbria, UK) and the aim of the workshop was to examine some of the theoretical challenges raised by sonification, and to explore the relevance of specific examples for our philosophical understanding of auditory and music perception. (Download programme, PDF, 53KB).

Chris Chafe showed us a wide variety of examples from his work as a musician, composing sonifications in collaboration with scientists and engineers. One of the areas he is interested in is whether a computer can be programmed to create human sounding music, with the hope this can aid our understanding of the creation of music. He also showed a range of installations, including a sonification of the ripening process of tomatoes and the tides.

My presentation was of my PhD work on sonification, evaluating ways of using sound to represent spatial data. I am very interested in how we combine sound with vision to represent additional spatial data, rather than using sound as a replacement for visual display of spatial data. The presentation is available below, and includes my PhD work with specific reference to my second case study on the UKCP09 (UK Climate Projections 2009) data set and how we could use sound to represent the uncertainty within this data set. I also discussed the conceptual model I have developed based on the results of my PhD, which is currently under consideration for publication. (Download presentation with multimedia, PowerPoint, 50MB).

Paul Vickers presented his work on the theory of sonification, considering how sonification compares with visualisation as a way of representing data. He adopted an approach of considering the semantics of the terms involved, highlighting the importance of the intent of the sonification designer and whether they wish the sonification to be a form of data communication, or a piece of work in itself (for example, as an art installation).

After each presentation and at the end of the workshop we had a wide ranging discussion of the issues mentioned by the presenters. It highlighted to me how much there is still to be done in understanding the theoretical side of sonification, including things such as the specific definition of what a sonification is, what it is not, and what the differences are between sonification and music. I believe Chris, Paul and I gave a fair overview of sonification to the Philosophy community, and that this is the beginning of a fruitful relationship between our communities.

Many thanks to Ophelia Deory for organising this event, to Barry Smith, Matthew Nudds and Emily Caddick for providing comments on our presentations, and to all the attendees to the workshop for providing a interesting and through provoking discussion.