[ISEA2008]Mark Ballora , S. Lee Hong & David Hall – Information through Sound: Understanding Data through Sonification




The turning point in the film The Hunt for Red October occurs when the sonar expert plays an apparent recording of underwater magma displacement. When he speeds it up tenfold, a rhythmic characteristic emerges that is unmistakably human-made: a new form of Soviet submarine.

While Hollywood has never been renowned for historical or scientific accuracy, the idea of detecting valuable information through sound is neither farfetched nor fictional. In our Information Age, new forms of gathering information are constantly being created. However, this does not necessarily lead to increased understanding. In particular, managing crisis situations or monitoring infrastructures requires the ability to interpret incoming information from multiple sources. With new sources of information constantly becoming available, the challenge becomes how to process it effectively, avoiding cogmenutia fragmentosa.

As we navigate our way through life, the eyes and the ears play complementary roles in giving us information about our environment. Yet in research fields, the eyes predominate, as datasets are typically presented through visualization. While composers have been using sound to represent subjective information for centuries, many researchers are beginning to look to a new form of composition, sonification, as a means of representing objective information. The authoritative source for this area is the International Community for Auditory Display), with focused efforts being carried out in interdisciplinary facilities such as SonEnvir in Austria and the Sonification Lab at Georgia Tech University. Here, we’ll present an overview of sonifi cation’s benefits and discuss two projects currently in progress.

Sight and Sound

Visualization has the benefit of being synoptic, and has a well-established vocabulary for conveying information with different types of charts and graphs. However, studying large amounts of data with the ears offers a number of advantages. Small-scale variations may be “magnified” if they are mapped to a quality such as pitch, to which the human auditory system is particularly sensitive. The auditory system is also highly adapted for following multiple streams of information. That is, listeners can readily apprehend a number of simultaneous melodies if they are presented effectively. Thus, sonification is an effective way to display a multitude of signal processing operations simultaneously, with each being represented as a line of counterpoint, a series of chords, or a succession of musical instruments.

Mark Ballora  Biography
School of Music, Department of Integrative Arts, Penn State University
S. Lee Hong  Biography
Department of Kinesiology, Louisiana State University
Brian Panulla  Biography
College of Information Sciences and Technology, Penn State University
David Hall  Biography
Director, Center for Network-centric Cognition and Information Fusion & Professor of Information Sciences and Technology, Penn State University

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