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Reviewed by:
  • ICAD 2006: Global Music—The World by Ear
  • Edward Childs
ICAD 2006: Global Music—The World by Ear International Conference on Auditory Display, Queen Mary's College University of London, London, UK, 20–23 June 2006.

The 2006 ICAD (International Conference on Auditory Display), held at Queen Mary's College University of London (20–23 June 2006), featured a sonification concert modeled after the "Listening to the Mind Listening" presentation at the Sydney Opera House on 8 July 2004 (see review in CMJ 29:1). At that concert, masterminded by Stephen Barrass, ten sonifications of a data set measuring EEG, heart rate, breathing, etc., of Dr. Evian Gordon listening to "Dry Mud" from Fish, by David Page, were presented. The music lasted five minutes, as did all ten pieces, which were constrained to adhere to the timeline of the original data.

This year's concert, "Global Music—The World by Ear," held at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London on 21 June, sponsored by the London Centre for Contemporary Arts and Cultural Enterprise, and organized by Alberto De Campo, director of the SonEnvir project in Graz, Austria, resulted from a call to sonify a basic geographical dataset (2005 snapshot) from 190 countries consisting of capital location, area, and population, extended by several basic social indicators such as GDP, access to sanitation and drinking water, and life expectancy. All submissions were to include "countries, capital locations, population, and area data." Extensions to the basic data were encouraged. Participants were to provide eight soundfiles at a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz/16 bit linear, spatialized for a horizontal symmetrical ring of eight loudspeakers.

Most composers used some form of panning to relate longitude. The two dimensional layout of the speaker ring precluded a spatial mapping of latitude.

As in Sydney, the eight responses to the same data set in the London concert were extremely diverse, both in approach to the basic required data and in the selection of extended data. However, the global music dataset presented a new question: "What data does one use for the timeline of the piece?" As with music, data sonifications must evolve over time. When the data has its own timeline, the general practice is to use it (sometimes with speed adjustments) as the timeline of the sonification.

The ICAD 2006 concert data had no inherent timeline, rather being a snapshot of global statistics in the year 2005. The invention of a timeline involves the imposition of order, tempo, and rhythm by the composer. If a data set, such as military spending in 190 countries, is chosen, then the notes or klangs, whose pitch, volume, duration, timbre, etc., are controlled by other statistics, such as life expectancy, access to drinking water, etc., are ordered from sorting the amount of spending in ascending, descending, or some other strategy. Once the order is determined, tempo and rhythm must also be determined.

Tim Barrass, the only contributor to the 2004 concert who submitted in 2006, came up with a most compelling timeline strategy in Life Expectancy. The ordering of notes was by life expectancy; however, Mr. Barrass chose to order the notes starting with the country with the highest life expectancy, followed by the lowest, followed by the next highest, etc. Furthermore, the ensuing "notes" were actually two-second bars, each containing sonifications of drinking water access, GDP, population, etc., all conveyed by intuitive sounds such as water being poured, clinking coins, the number of voices proclaiming the country, etc. Altogether, eight parameters were conveyed in each bar. After a brief consultation of a score provided by Mr. Barrass, the sonifications were very easy to follow. Mr. Barrass's work should be considered a landmark in the auditory display of multi-dimensional information in a compact and elegant style.

David E. Spondike, in his three movement piece Schnappschuss von der Erde, chose to change the timeline multiple times within each movement. For example, the order of the notes in one section of the middle movement "L'Ostinati" correlates with the military spending. The pitch of the notes is determined by GDPper capita and loudness by CO2 emissions. A change in the sort order was marked by...


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