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Finding meaning in data: Using data elements to sonify and visualize the found environment

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Visiting a natural setting can be a deeply visceral experience. Experiencing a landscape is a two-part process: firstly, the senses take in information from a three-dimensional world – for most of us, these take the forms of sights and sounds. Secondly, this information is translated into a mental landscape flecked with the nuances of personal meaning. How one interprets a landscape cannot be separated from the observer; our personal experiences (and biases) filter and colour our observations. Arguably, the use of landscapes in the creation of artefacts is a form of communicative expression, both between the artist and the landscape and between the artist and their own experiences. These considerations then raise the question of how an artist can then depict these visual and aural experiences, and the impact they have on the artist, as tangible artefacts that can be shared with others? One answer is through the creation of audio-visual works that combine the visual and aural aspects of a setting, and which then leads to another question: how do you create – or re-create – representations of a landscape? How does one establish relationships and associations between visual and aural information drawn from the found environment (i.e. the environment in situ as seen and heard through the eyes and ears of an observer) and place these into audio-visual compositions? This article explores the creation of audio-visual representations of the found environment using elements of data as methods of sonification, the compositional processes involved with organizing these data elements, using data as a structural process that informs the parameters of a composition and the use of music visualization. Multiple data elements such as hexadecimal data, field footage, field recordings and contours of a landscape can be used to sonify the found environment by creating multiple perspectives of the environment into the work. It also strengthens the connection between the aural and the visual by creating links between both mediums. This article will discuss these points through analysis of the creation of Civil Eyes // The Wild, an audio-visual performance that was commissioned by the You Are Here Festival in 2016 – using the performance as an example of how the found environment can be used as parameters for sonification and visualization.
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Keywords: audio-visual media; biomimicry; electroacoustic composition; environmental sound; music visualization; sonification

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Edith Cowan University

Publication date: December 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • The Soundtrack is a multi-disciplinary journal which brings together research in the area of music and sound in relation to film and other moving image media. A complex cultural, technological, industrial and artistic phenomenon, sound-with-moving image is a rich area for analysis, investigation and speculation. We encourage writing that is accessible to audiences from a diversity of intellectual backgrounds and disciplines as well as providing a forum for practitioners. The Soundtrack's aim is to nurture this new and expanding area of academic investigation in dialogue with soundtrack producers of all kinds.
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