Sonification of​.​.​.

by Beavan Flanagan

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Sonification of the electric field average intensity in dB above background at 76 logarithmically spaced frequencies ranging from 616 Hz to 10085542 Hz, between the dates 19-01-2016 at 00:01:30.000 and 19-01-2016 at 00:58:30.000.

CAUTION
The sounds produced on this album contain many high frequencies and sustained sine tones that could cause ear fatigue and/or damage to the ear with prolonged listening. Therefore listening to the entire album in one go is not recommended.

This album transmits in sound one hour’s worth of data retrieved from Nasa’s WIND spacecraft, which is currently taking measurements of radio and plasma waves occurring in the solar wind (see wind.nasa.gov).

Sonification of data collected by various instruments in space has become increasingly prevalent in recent decades, serving as both a practical method of understanding physical phenomena that are otherwise imperceivable by human senses, as a complement or alternative to visualisation, in addition to a pedagogical tool for generating public interest into space exploration and research (see spdf.gsfc.nasa.gov/research/sonification/.

Most of the signals that are measured by space instruments are imperceivable by human beings, and thus require considerable human and technological intervention in order to scale and transform incoming data into a perceivable signal (auditory or otherwise). This transformative process reveals as much about the instruments that measure the signals, and the humans that interpret these signals, as they do about the physical processes that are being measured.

Here I shift the focus away from the physical phenomena that are typically being studied, and towards the properties of the scientific instrument itself. I have sonified data from a particular instrument on board the WIND spacecraft that takes samples of solar wind data, measured in decibels at 76 predetermined frequencies, every three minutes. What is heard then are 76 separate frequencies represented as a series of tones whose individual amplitudes vary every three minutes, over the course of one hour.

From a scientific perspective, this particular sonification is completely useless as it only represents a very brief snippet of solar wind activity, revealing absolutely nothing about larger scale changes in solar activity. Typically, sonification takes much larger samples of data and compresses them into shorter time periods in order for the changes in behaviour to be made audible. In the case of this album it is the behaviour of the measuring instrument that reveals itself: the 76 fixed frequencies at which it samples incoming signals, in addition to the periodic re-sampling of signals at three minute intervals. The sounding result is scientifically trivial, giving away nothing more than the inscrutability of outer space to human perception.

The data for this project is provided courtesy of M.L Kaiser at GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Centre) and CDAWeb (Coordinated Data Analysis Web). More information here: cdaweb.gsfc.nasa.gov

credits

released March 31, 2016

The data for this project is provided courtesy of M.L Kaiser at GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Centre) and CDAWeb (Coordinated Data Analysis Web). More information here: cdaweb.gsfc.nasa.gov

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Beavan Flanagan Manchester, UK

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