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Sonifying the Higgs
Transcript of Sonifying the Higgs
Choice and coding orientation in the sonification of data
Daniel Lees Fryer, NSFLW 2013, University of Agder, Norway, November 7-8, 2013
University of Gothenburg / Oslo and Akershus University College
email@example.com @danielleesfryer www.danielleesfryer.com
What choices has the composer made in the recontextualization of data from the LHC?
What motivated these particular choices?
Are some of these choices (actual and potential) more highly valued than others, and, if so, why (and by whom)?
Choices made, motivation, and alternatives?
Social-semiotic approach, based on van Leeuwen 1999, and short interview with composer/physicist Domenico Vicinanza (August 30, 2013), blog, sonification literature
Finding music in my and others' research
Exploring possibilities of communicating research/data through sound:
Announcement by CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) of discovery of "Higgs-like particle" and sonification of data from Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - July 2012
What is the Higgs?
Higgs field: hypothesized to give other fundamental particles their mass; Higgs particle (boson) manifestation of field
PHD video ->
See also CERN
"the use of non-speech audio to convey information [...] the transformation of data relations into perceived relations in an acoustic signal for the purposes of facilitating communication or interpretation" (Kramer et al. 1999: n.p.)
"The technique of rendering sound in response to data and interactions" (Herman et al. 2011: 1)
"the data-dependent generation of sound, if the transformation is systematic, objective and reproducible" (Walker and Nees 2011: 9)
Character or quality of a sound (harmonics, overtones - vibrato, roughness)
e.g. difference between middle C (same intensity and duration) on a piano compared with a guitar
Choices of timbre
familiar (western) sound; abstract, connotative representation?
"I wanted something recognisable to stress the fact that the final result is something that anybody can play, not just a computer" (DV, pers. comm.)
Measured time (4/4), metronomic (60/80 bpm), regularized; sixteenths/semiquavers; 4 bars; equally spaced (no rests) - cf. visual figure
Piano recording, monorhythmic; "orchestral" (Habanera), polyrhythmic (more on this later)
- "60bpm is close to the heart beat, giving a music pulse which sounds immediately 'familiar', comfortable" (DV, pers. comm.)
- "I wanted something describing the data without adding too much, so I have chosen a regular rhythm, just associating each note to a semiquaver." (ibid.)
Choices of duration
Tempo, length of individual/combined sounds (rhythm), regularity, patterns, combinations of rhythms (poly-, mono-)
Frequency, melody, harmony, tuning
Choices of pitch
Tuning: 12-tone equal temperament, key of C
Data points matched to individual notes (A-G) by following algorithm:
"1. the same number is associated to the same note
"2. the melody is 'covariant' with the data, i.e. the melody changes following exactly the same profile of the scientific data" (LHC Open Symphony blog 2012)
Background = first line of stave (E)
"I used a linear mapping from the initial data set to a set of music notes within a scale (instead of just mapping to frequency)" (DV, pers. comm.)
Loudness: dynamic, static
Choices of intensity
Same level of loudness throughout
Other intensity-related choices?
Varying levels, e.g. to emphasize "Higgs data" and to de-emphasize near-background data
Levels could vary according to change in relation to background - larger deviation, greater intensity.
Choice and coding orientation
But certain choices of timbre and pitch, e.g. piano sound and "standard tuning," might be "inappropriate or illegitimate forms of realization" (Bernstein 1981: 329) in abstract coding orientation of science.
Aim of sonification not necessarily/exclusively for scientific community. Wider audience (cf. familiarity of piano and C major)
Bernstein, Basil. 1981. Codes, modalities and the process of cultural reproduction: a model. Language and Society 10: 327-363.
Hermann, Thomas, Andy Hunt, John G. Neuhoff. 2011. Introduction. In "The Sonification Handbook," edited by Thomas Hermann, Andy Hunt, John G. Neuhoff. Berlin: Logos; pp. 1-6
Kramer, Gregory, et al. 1999. The sonification report: status of the field and research agenda. Santa Fe: International Community for Auditory Display (ICAD).
Kress, Gunter and Theo van Leeuwen. 2006. Reading images: the grammar of visual design. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.
van Leeuwen, Theo. 1999. Speech, music, sound. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Walker, Bruce N and Michael A. Nees. 2011. Theory of sonification. In "The Sonification Handbook," edited by Thomas Hermann, Andy Hunt, John G. Neuhoff. Berlin: Logos; pp. 9-39
Chris Cutler, Probes podcast. Barcelona: Radio Web Macba, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona. http://rwm.macba.cat/en/probes_tag (accessed November 5, 2013)
Domenico Vicinanza, interview by e-mail, August 30, 2013
LHC Open Symphony blog: http://lhcopensymphony.wordpress.com/the-first-higgs-boson-data-sonifcation/ (accessed November 5, 2013)
Recontextualizing the Higgs
"La musique est dans tout. Un hymne sort du monde." - Victor Hugo
"Music is all around us, if only we had ears to hear it." - John Cage
"Alt skal synge." - Arne Nordheim
"A code is a regulative principle [...] which selects and integrates a) relevant meanings [orientations to meanings] b) forms of their realization [textual productions] c) evoking contexts [specialized interactional practices]" (Bernstein 1981: 328, 329)
"code presupposes a concept of irrelevant or illegitimate meanings [...] inappropriate or illegitimate forms of realization [...and] inappropriate, illegitimate contexts" (ibid.: 329)
Sonifying the Higgs
Four common "elements of sound" e.g. Cutler 2012
Other timbre-related choices?
similar, familiar instruments, e.g. electric guitar
something more denotative, e.g. "collisions"
something more abstract or "objective" (cf. Walker and Nees 2011: 9), e.g. sine waves - single frequency, no overtones
Other duration-related choices?
Different tempo (cf. issue of temporality), increased/decreased
Changing the lengths or envelope of notes, e.g. sustain
Changing time signature or beat divisions, e.g. 3/4, eighths, tuplets, etc.
Other pitch-related choices?
Glissandi/portamenti (related to duration, constrained by choice of instrument) - gliding between notes/data points
Different tuning systems; no tuning system at all - "just mapping to frequency"
Code and Higgs sonification
Presentation available at:
http://prezi.com/user/dlfryer (Sonifying the Higgs)
What regulative principles have informed Vicinenza's sonification?
Abstract(-sensory) coding orientations (van Leeuwen 1999: 177-178, Kress and van Leeuwen 2006: 165-166) typical of science (and other "sociocultural elites")
reduced articulation (van Leeuwen 1999: 177), e.g. minimal range of duration
"I wanted something describing the data without adding too much" (DV, pers. comm.)
Abstraction from individual to general, from the Higgs experiment to Higgs in general, to nature in general: "harmonies in natural phenomena are related to harmonies in music. A regular periodic phenomenon is then represented naturally through sonification, by a regular, periodic melody" (LHC Open Symphony blog)
Different groups/communities, different coding orientations - some of which may be more sensory or naturalistic, rather than abstract
"Orchestral" version of sonification
Reasons for sonifying data (from LHC Open Symphony blog):
"[...] help people understand or at least “feel” the complexity and beauty of the finding.
[...] allow a blind researcher to understand exactly where the Higgs boson peak is and how big the evidence is.
[...] give a musician the opportunity to explore the fascinating world of the high-energy physics by playing its wonders.
By studying different sonification algorithms we can find more and more effective ways to support researchers to detect interesting phenomena by listening to them."