Sonification is the translation of information for auditory perception, excluding speech itself. A straight-forward example is the Geiger counter. Since 1992, methods of sonification are systematically explored (www.icad.org). Since 2004, IEM projects made unusual data sound – from election results to EEG recordings of epilepsy patients (www.sonenvir.at) to complex data from quantum chromodynamics or particle trajectories from CERN (www.qcd-audio.at).
Sonification is an acoustic analogue of visualisation and an innovative approach to representing data. The sheer amount of data which is produced today is constantly increasing. For this reason both science and society need new methods to deal with this.
The world-wide sonification community holds an annual conference – the International Conference on Auditory Display (ICAD). Current research topics include parameter mapping, audification, model-based sonification and iconographic representation, such as, for instance, auditory icons (familiar in the computer world, e.g. the sound of a “new message” in an email programme). Various combinations of these methods use the potential of human perceptual abilities and cognitive performance in a multitude of ways. Just as a mechanic analyses the sound of a motor and a doctor deduces illnesses from lung sounds, many disciplines can profit from the ability of our hearing. Sonification is proving itself in science as particularly suitable for the initial analysis of complex, dynamic and multidimensional data.
In the SonEnvir – Sonification Environment project, scientists from all the Graz universities have been working together under the leadership of the IEM in order to develop examples of sonification at an interdisciplinary level. Data from sociology, neurology, physics and signal processing have been sonified in order to give new impulses to the formation of hypotheses in each of the respective disciplines.
The QCD-Audio follow-up project focused on computer physics. Complex, often 4-dimensional data sets originate from computer models which cannot be completely visualised but which have to be analysed by physicists. Sonification of data enables a new approach to be taken – also for the interested public (e.g. in an interactive sound installation in the MUMUTH in November 2010). Further sonified data from physics originated in CERN computer models, where trajectories of elementary particles in a detector were made audible. Another focus at the IEM is on movement sonification. Using the infrared motion tracking system at the institute, movements can be transmitted as sounds in real time. The system PhysioSonic has been used in collaboration with a private hospital for rehabilitation patients. Patients receive direct acoustic feedback about whether they carry out their movement correctly. They achieve significantly better training results in pilot studies compared to the (silent) control group. Even juggling patterns have been put to sound in the same way at the IEM. Here, together with the multi-media performance, sonification gave the juggler feedback about the regularity of his juggling.
In the ongoing research project SysSon, a systematic way of developing sonifications is explored at the example of climate data. Collected findings and developed techniques are being incorporated into current research and art projects.