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Composing [De]Composition: Data Sonification for Sound Art and Music Composition

  • Author(s): Parker, Jennifer Andrea (No.E)
  • Advisor(s): Dicke, Ian J
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

Composing [De]Composition is a large-scale BioArt/sonification research installation that was presented at the University of California Riverside’s Sweeney Art Gallery from June-October 2015. This paper introduces compost—the main material of Composing [De]Composition—as a rich site for creative exploration and expression via the medium of data sonification. Here, the author non-reductively describes the multi-agential and poly-temporal nature of compost and data sonification through detailing the evolution of a process-based, techno-ecological artistic praxis involving: the observation, audification, and sonification of compost temperatures; the development of new sensing methods for data collection; parameter mapping; audio display/spatial sound design; dataset-based digital music composition and musification for acoustic instrumentation.

The main observable driving the project is incalescence—the heat generated by the composting process. During the exhibition/research period, audification of this biological process brought a perceivably silent activity into the tangible reach of human hearing. The collection and real-time audification of temperature data using a custom interface to route sensor data to an eight-point audio display enabled listeners to better understand the complex ecology of a heterogeneous mass that was simultaneously decomposing, supporting a myriad of life forms while also enabling the bioavailability of macronutrients to the soil.

The recontexualization of compost temperature data into sound also creates fertile ground for exploration in the realm of music composition—while the collection of data over time depicts inherent patterns occurring in the system analyzed, the basis of music also builds upon the use of patterns—pitched, rhythmic, and dynamic—through time. Sonification of compost temperature patterns not only capacitates human auditory observation of what is normally a perceivably silent physical biological process but also enables the composer/sound artist to create compositions in partnership with her phenomenon of study.

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