Insight Culture: Danny Diamond writes about mapping storms to music

Submitted on Monday, 25/04/2022

What would a storm sound like if it was put to music?

In 2020 Dr Brian Wall and Prof Mathieu d’Aquin approached me to assist with an interesting small project. Brian had secured some internal NUI Galway funding to pursue a personal project bringing together two of his interests: meteorology and traditional music. He had been attempting to sonify weather data. Data sonification is an auditory equivalent to data visualization – representing data through sound rather than visually. Brian was dissatisfied at the lack of musical sophistication in the output, which was essentially a sequence of MIDI bleeps.

Brian and I worked on data for a couple of storms from the winter of 2019/20, selecting potentially interesting time periods and rescaling the windspeed and air pressure values to fit a musical scale. In parallel we deconstructed an online collection of approximately 1,200 Irish tunes into miniature musical patterns of a single beat in duration, giving us a dataset of musical gestures for use in sonification.

The weather data was mapped to an outline melodic shape, rising and falling as the speed and pressure readings changed. At each beat this outline was ‘filled out’ or animated by automatically selecting a pattern from the musical dataset. Using this approach, we moved from a simple sonic output with no musical meaning or logic to the automatic generation of new music in response to Brian’s data.

The output was represented on a musical score, which was the performed and recorded on video for the Galway Science and Technology Festival 2021. The video, and detailed background notes are available online. You can view the video above (enable cookies in order to do so) or here.

Following completion of the above project, Mathieu d’Aquin invited me to contribute further within Insight through a research Masters as part of the EU H2020 Polifonia project, which began in January 2021.

You will read more about Polifonia later this week.