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COVID-19 Data Sonification #65

Data sonification maps statistical figures to sound and is used to explore data patterns through time.

This project uses data from the World Health Organization Situation Reports in which global figures are presented for population infected with Covid 19 and new deaths related to the virus by day between the 21st January 2020 and the 25th March 2020.

Professor Pedro Rebelo, Sonic Arts at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University Belfast.

The sonification algorithm is a simple mapping between the figures and a sound frequency in Hertz (i.e. the first reported number of 282 infected translates as 282Hz). The result is a complex timbre made up of all the individual figures introduced one second at a time to represent each day since the 21st January (WHO’s Situation Report 1). 

Covid19 Data Sonification #65 from Pedro Rebelo on Vimeo.

To reflect human hearing thresholds (theoretically between 20Hz and 20000Hz), a mechanism was introduced which aims to make audible the rapid speed of contagion. Every time the infected figure goes above 20000, 20000 or multiples of 20000 are subtracted from the official figure to bring into hearing range. Everytime this occurs a sharp percussive woodblock sound is heard. The sonification presents two parameters, global number of infected cases (sonified with a simple sine tone) and global number of new deaths sonified with a sawtooth wave, i.e. a more nasal and harsher sounding tone). 

“Sonification is defined as the use of nonspeech audio to convey information. More specifically, sonification is the transformation of data relations into perceived relations in an acoustic signal for the purposes of facilitating communication or interpretation.”  (Kramer et al, 1999)

Sonification is one of the methods for engaging with the world through sound. In an admittedly visual and textually led culture, one often under plays the experiential impact sound plays in our everyday lives. Research into sound from perspectives that range from the aesthetic to the perceptual and the technical contribute to a richer understanding of the world.

Acknowledgments: Lukas Rebelo, Max Rebelo, Matilde Meireles and Pedro Rebelo