Thanks to an excellent LASER talk last week, I’m feeling inspired by music. Musicians too, have been converting data into composition and performance. This is, of course, data performance, at least when it is performed live, and would turn a piece of theatre into data theatre if performed during a show, just as data art makes data theatre if it appears in a theatrical context. What is theatre or not, and performance or not, and whether they have to be presented by live performers to a live audience to be so classified, are questions for another time. For now, let’s just take a look at some examples of music made from data:

Iceprints, by Matthew Burtner, is a remapping of data measuring polar ice change in the Arctic Ocean, merged with audio recordings taken below the ice during melting season.

1200 Years of Earth’s Climate, Transformed into Sound is a sonification project by Chris Chafe, that converts global average temperatures and CO2 levels from 850 A.D. to 2016 into music.

1200 Years of Earth’s Climate, Transformed into Sound

Other works by Chris Chafe include Polartide, which is a sonification of sea water levels, and Brain Stethoscope, which transforms recordings of brain activity into music.

The LASER talk led to some excellent questions, put forward by Jonathan Impett of Kent University, that apply just as much to attempts to convert data into theatre as into music:

This work is inevitably influenced by what we subjectively find beautiful or relevant, so how does an artist determine which data is chosen or not?

Again, in the process of mapping data into art, decisions must be made, taste must play a role, but what about the purity of the data? Do we have a right to “interpret” data, and at what point does interpretation become distortion?

To what extent does the artist feel empowered to intervene with the data, and to what extent should s/he intervene?