Sonic Skills: Sonification of Scientific Data

Sonic Skills: Sonification of Scientific Data

This project investigates the practice of the auditory display of scientific data, also known as data sonification. Since the early 1990s, a small interdisciplinary community of scientists and artists has been systematically exploring the possibility of using sound to represent scientific data – sometimes as an alternative, other times as a supplement to the more established practice of data visualization. The project has traced the emergence of the sonification community, and in particular, their efforts to have listening to scientific data accepted as a credible scientific technique. The fact that sonification has received increasing media attention in recent years has not always been particularly helpful in these efforts, as the media discourse tends to emphasize listening as a source of sublime emotional experiences – an idea which is quite at odds with the notion that listening can serve analytic insights and should be accepted as an objective scientific method. The project has explored these tensions between the public fascination with and the academic legitimacy of sonification, and how the sonification community engages in a balancing act between different strategies of establishing the scientific legitimacy for their research.

Empirically, much of the project revolves around the International Community for Auditory Display as the institutional embodiment of sonification; however, an effort was made to also investigate sonification projects that exist outside of that institutional context. The project involved an analysis of primary literature and documents on sonification, the conduction of qualitative interviews with sonification practitioners, as well as ethnographic research in various sonification-relatex contexts, ranging from musical performances to academic conferences.

Main researcher: Dr. Alexandra Supper.

(In the beginning of 2012, Alexandra successfully defended (with distinction) her PhD thesis ‘Lobbying for the Ear: The Public Fascination with and Academic Legitimacy of the Sonification of Scientific Data‘.)

Related publication:

Supper, A.. 2013. “Sublime Frequencies: The Construction of Sublime Listening Experiences in the Sonification of Scientific Data.” Social Studies of Science, 44 (1): 34-58.

Listen also the podcast <available here>, which features some relevant sound examples and an interview with Alexandra by the editor of SSS, Sergio Sismondo!