In the realm of auditory perception, two distinct yet interconnected disciplines stand out: sonification and soundscape. While sonification delves into the realm of data transformation, converting abstract information into an audible form, soundscape paints a vivid sonic portrait of the environment, immersing listeners in the essence of a place. Together, they unveil the boundless power of sound, shaping our understanding and emotional experiences.
Sonification Is Objective, Quantifiable, and Analytical.
Sonification emerges from the transformation of non-audible data into an auditory experience. Through sonification, we can perceive the patterns hidden within data. Each data point is assigned a corresponding sound parameter, such as pitch, duration, or volume. You can read my earlier posts to learn about the sonification of data.
Soundscape Is Subjective, Qualitative, and Evocative.
Soundscape paints a vivid auditory portrait of an acoustic environment, urban or natural. Imagine yourself strolling through a bustling cityscape, the cacophony of traffic, chatter, and distant sirens weaving an intricate sonic tapestry. Think of a serene forest with birds chirping and leaves rustling.
Soundscape artists meticulously capture these auditory nuances, crafting a sonic representation of a place, evoking emotions. Recordings of soundscapes can be found on SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube, and other sites. Searching for “rainforest sounds,” “ocean waves,” or “nighttime forest ambience” could yield different results.
Soundscapes Add Life to Multimedia Presentations
In May 2022 Inkcap Journal published Six Thousand Years of Forests about the ways that farming and industry have changed British forests through time. Environmental journalist Sophie Yeo partnered with ecologist Joseph Monkhouse and illustrator Elin Manon to bring those lost landscapes—and soundscapes—back to life.
Joseph Monkhouse created soundscapes based on archaeological, historic and cultural records. He used estimates for the density of songbirds and raptors based upon the animal and plant species found in the modern-day Białowieża Forest in Poland, which still bears some similarities to the primeval British landscape.
• 3,980 BCE—Many birds sing, insects buzz, and a wild boar crashes through the undergrowth.
• 1422 AD—The sound of a horse and cart is accompanied by the songs of various bird species.
• 1962 AD—Bird songs are interrupted by chainsaws cutting down trees.
• 2022 AD—A chorus of bird song ebbs and flows with the repeated passing of airplanes.
• 2082 AD—Two soundscapes are presented for different futures, one dominated by the sounds of people and machines, in which forests are reduced and the other with more bird song in which forests are restored.
Read an interview with the author and publisher to learn more about this multimedia piece.
Conclusion: The Transformative Power of Sonification and Soundscape
Sonification and soundscape are distinct but complementary approaches to understanding the world through sound. Soundscape refers to an audio composition that represents a particular acoustic environment. Sonification is a technique that assigns a sound parameter like pitch, duration, or volume to each data point to explore patterns in the entire data set.
Together, these two auditory domains form an intricate tapestry of understanding. Sonification provides the analytical framework, enabling us to decipher the language of data and uncover the underlying order within complex systems. Soundscape, in contrast, ignites emotional resonance, transporting us to distant locales and stirring memories that lie dormant within our subconscious.
By embracing the transformative power of both sonification and soundscape, we expand our perception of the universe, recognizing the interconnectedness of data, experience, and emotion. Sonification empowers us to decode the invisible, while soundscape reminds us of the profound impact of our surroundings. As we delve deeper into the intricacies of sound, we discover the boundless possibilities that lie within the auditory realm.
More Examples of Sonification and Soundscapes
Last, but not least, I am sharing examples of sonification and soundscapes for anyone who wants to spend some more time exploring these topics.
Colors is an episode of Radiolab that was originally broadcast by WNYC on May 21, 2012. It explored the differences in how humans and other creatures perceive colors of the rainbow. A choir sang different tones for each color word along a rising scale from red to purple.
Read about the Sonic Futures project at the National Science and Media Museum, United Kingdom.