Data Sonification as Artistic Practice

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Data sonification practice and concepts cross the fields of science, art and music, everyday life, and work.

Data sonification has been problematized - and its epistemic value examined at best - in the field of auditory display; in this context, sonification refers to the use of nonverbal audio for conveying information, namely transforming data into acoustic phenomena which should facilitate its communication and interpretation.

Such assumption is based on the notion of the ear as a psychophysical and cognitive system whose skills may be trained for particular tasks, as shown by historical and contemporary customs in several scientific, industrial, and handicraft areas.

Sonification has been a forerunner in certain practices based on auditory expertise, which have been then set aside and mechanized through more sophisticated implementations. Nowadays, sonification is rather alive in several fields, such as product and service design-related applications.

Furthermore, an epistemic discourse has been established onto the concept of the "trainable" ear, with the aim of understanding whether sonification could be an instrument of rational knowledge and benefit a disciplinary consistency. This has been supported by the fact that sonification is punctuated by experiments in which hearing replaces or - at least - enhances visual representation.

However, given that in the scientific discourse neither hearing nor sight in themselves have ever been a guarantee of knowledge, sonification practices are not primarily an object of interest as scientific demonstrations; furthermore, it is at least controversial whether the said practices may result from dissatisfaction for current habits rather than being an opportunity like any other.

The concern devoted to sonification by the so-called Sound Studies - a field that claims to better explain the relationship of man and the sounds of the contemporary by virtue of its interdisciplinarity, rather than sociology, ethnology and history as separate disciplines - has provided a transversal approach to problematize sonification by avoiding bias.

For instance, sonification has been used as a tool to rehabilitate the culture of hearing in respect to the prevailing visual approach, which is often considered as an icon of the unbridled ideology of progress and productivity; or, as a reference to criticize how for a practice or a device to be successful, its satisfaction through epistemic criteria is overwhelmed by community accreditation processes.

Sonification has also been exploited in auditory aesthetics by hypostatizing the contribution of scientific methods or approaches as key renovation factor in the arts, though neither sonification's disciplinary consistency nor its qualification as a scientific method are supposed. Depending on the context and on the involvement of lobby interests, such as in the dissemination of scientific research programs, sonification procedures have been reduced to a practical tool for the creation of sound morphologies of any significance.

The implicit aesthetic value of sonification should not be confused with its artistic usage, being the issue of subjectivity already addressed from a scientific perspective. Rather, in the artistic perspective new questions about the purpose of data sonification emerge, which may be very fruitful.

Social, cultural and political uses of sonification are particularly clear: as an example beyond market performance and environmental issues, mere data concerning local events or communities has often been used in music compositions and installations, in which the listener is asked to recover its value.


The purpose of the School is to move epistemics to the background, without eclipsing it, in order to examine data sonification from an artistic point of view, where the aesthetic discourse may receive an appropriate and broader methodological emphasis - it being agreed that the combination of scientific and artistic practices may yield best results within an artistic research which allows an actual debate between different views.

In view of the above, it must be stressed again that the virtue of sonification is linked precisely to its impermanence and to intuition, and indirectly related to the issues that continuously emerge when trying to assimilate sonification to a strict disciplinary context.

Therefore, instead of evaluating sonification's aesthetic effectiveness in itself, the School focuses on the strengthening of the artistic approach of sonification by means of the contribution given by other aspects, such as communication, semiotics, and design.

To achieve that, the participants should submit their sonification projects in the form of any kind of artistic artifact, from instrumental composition to mixed and acousmatic music, installation, and sound art, thematizing their work in order to create a report to be published after the artistic presentation.

Some food for thought and operational ideas (not mandatory):

  1. quoting and creating musical detours on historical episodes related to sonification ("sonification on sonification" or meta-sonification);
  2. joining data sonification and storytelling;
  3. delivery of content of social interest through the use of recent data;
  4. sonification of local data, with particular reference to the region of Veneto (eg. tourist flow, production and consumption of wines and spirits; production of high fashion fabrics; historic river transportation; ship traffic; urban topography; sewerage);
  5. sonification applied in culture-specific music genres;
  6. sonification as anti-selfish attitude in music creation;
  7. hybridizing sonification with performance and improvisation;
  8. implications of real-time constraints or time scaling through offline techniques;
  9. auditory display categories for the creation of actual pieces of music.

More details

Workshop page on Open Conference System
Project page on repository

Important dates

April 9, 2015, call for projects
May 11, 2015, extended subscription deadline
May 12, 2015, feedback to participants
May 21-22, 2015, seminar and workshop Fabio Cifariello Ciardi
September 28-29, 2015, seminar and workshop Martin Rumori
November 13, 2015, artistic presentation (Living Lab Music 6)


Fabio Cifariello Ciardi, Conservatory of Trento [seminar,workshop]
Martin Rumori, Institut für Elektronische Musik und Akustik, Kunstuniversität Graz [seminar,workshop]
Giorgio Klauer, Conservatory of Padova, Sound and Music Processing Lab [coordination]
Andrea Vigani, Conservatory of Padova, Sound and Music Processing Lab [coordination]