Music Blends with Engineering as Big Data Is Transformed into Sound

Data sonification offers unique opportunity for data analysis.

Big data are data sets that are so voluminous and complex that traditional data processing software often proves inadequate to deal with them … says Wikipedia. With this glaring limitation staring us in the face, it is only rational to seek out alternative and more comprehensive means of data analysis. As it so happens, data sonification might just turn out to be the jackpot we’ve been waiting for!

The Earth’s upper atmosphere rendered as a half dome. (Image courtesy of Virginia Tech.)

The Earth’s upper atmosphere rendered as a half dome. (Image courtesy of Virginia Tech.)

The main idea behind data sonification is turning non auditory data into sounds, as opposed to data visualization, which has been the trend up until now. This unique data exploration technique utilizes the human auditory system, which is far superior to the eyes in recognizing temporal changes and patterns.

The Spatial Audio Data Immersive Experience (SADIE) project focuses on the earth’s upper atmospheric system, which contains spatially rich physical variables. The upper hemisphere is represented by a half dome, which is divided into several rectangles. Each rectangle is assigned a speaker out of the 129 high-density loudspeaker arrays utilized for the project. The speakers control the various sound properties such as pitch, loudness, pulse rate and timbre, in order to reflect the changes distinctively in the atmospheric data witnessed in that specific area of the dome.

This project took place in the cube—a collaborative research facility located in the Moss Arts Centre at Virginia Tech. The motion capture system present in the cube allowed users to navigate through sonified data via a gesture-driven interface, which made fast-forwarding, rewinding, zooming and amplification of data possible, as well as slowing down or speeding up of data playback.

The SADIE project was born via a collaboration between Ivica Bukvic, a professor of music, and Greg Earle, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and it was funded by the National Science Foundation. Although it’s still in its infancy, SADIE may be applied to other fields like quantum mechanics, aeronautical engineering and thermodynamics.

For more data science developments, find out how “Big Data Predicts Terrorist Attacks with More Than 90 Percent Accuracy.”