The current issue of The Wire features a column I wrote, under the Unofficial Channels heading, about the website sonification.design. If you’re a subscriber now, you can read it in the magazine (the issue with Reynols on the cover). When the next issue of The Wire comes out, I’ll post the full text to Disquiet.com.
Musician and computer science PhD candidate Jamie Ferguson teamed with the European Space Agency to develop a unique sonification of early and contemporary maps of our sky. As described at the ESA’s website, “The improvement in the quantity and precision of data, as well as the increased information content and dimensions contained in each catalogue, are palpable as the sound clip evolves from the ancient Hipparchus to the modern Hipparcos.” Hipparchus is the ancient Greek astronomer, while Hipparcos is the name of the ESA satellite. The post goes into great detail about how each of the “stellar catalogues” was translated into sound, noting what parameters were paid attention to, and how they were transposed — pitch to star brightness, for example, and volume to distance.
Someone adds an entry about a cooking magazine from the 1950s? Boom …
Someone corrects the release date in the discography of James Taylor? Bleep …
Someone undoes a spelling correction in an entry about an undersecretary from a mid-century U.S. presidential administration? Bong …
Audible tones and expanding, colored circles are used in tandem to announce changes to the vast collaborative encyclopedia thanks to the great online tool Listen to Wikipedia (listen.hatnote.com), one of the best examples of realtime sonification on the web. Developed by Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi, it’s the subject of a short recent interview from radio station KQED. The conversation with Hashemi goes into the background of the tool. He talks about the software’s actions, and how it serves both as an expression of Wikipedia and as a response to the economic focus of Silicon Valley.
There’s something very pleasing and centering about the placid surveillance of Listen to Wikipedia, all that communal and often rancorous activity transformed into dulcet tones. Sometimes I just let it run on a side screen as I work. Sometimes I also run this pure geographic visualizer, at rcmap.hatnote.com:
Up at the top of this post is a sample still frame of Listen to Wikipedia in action. Here is an example of the sort of realtime information that Listen to Wikipedia parses:
This documentation summarizes how the sounds and related images of Listen to Wikipedia correlate with actual edits:
Bells indicate additions and string plucks indicate subtractions. Pitch changes according to the size of the edit; the larger the edit, the deeper the note. Green circles show edits from unregistered contributors, and purple circles mark edits performed by automated bots.
Here’s a short video of Listen to Wikipedia in action:
”¢ Tracking Sound: This is a bit old, dating from late December, but I just came across the news that Freesound.org, a massive shared database of field recordings and other sounds, now allows users to track specific tags and users. Useful if you have a fetish for creaking doors, foghorns, or particular species of bird:
Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media
Upcoming • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com. • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
Recent • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier). • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org). • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation. • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community. • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community. • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too. • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)
Background Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.