Data visualization and audio mapping


According to Stephan Few, data visualization is “the graphical display of abstract information for two purposes: sense-making and communication” (2010). The process of continuously organizing information is a vital step in human evolution and progress. As time passes, the society changes and the amount of information increases. Thus, the systems of managing data are reinvented and adapted to the new requirements. Data visualization is most commonly met when dealing with statistics, usually illustrating quantities or values and the relationship between them, so as to facilitate an easy comparison. This method, as opposed to the classical tables with numbers, is an easy and fast way of systematizing and transmitting information.


Very good knowledge about human perception is necessary in order to encode a message into an image that can easily be decoded by others. Artists and designers are most likely to respond to this challenge. Artists have transformed data that floats all around us into a tool for creating stories and expressing artistic messages. The intelligent use of shapes, colors and signs, as well as their skill of organizing information in a structured way, generate amazing systems and help guiding the viewers through the fascinating universe of data. In 2003, Fernanda ViĆ©gas, Kushal Dave and Jonathan Feinberg collaborated in the project called “History Flow”, in which they extracted data regarding the dynamics of editing on Wikipedia and transposed them into diagrams. This gathering of data in time showed, through flowing shapes and colors, how often were some of the articles from Wikipedia vandalized and exactly how rapidly they were fixed. Another piece that created narrative in this manner is the one of Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, who searched to bring stories and personal data from online dating and social networking websites in their interactive applicationI Want You to Want Me”. They created a system that collects data every hour and organizes it into virtual balloons containing personal messages. It gives users the possibility to surf through various beautifully designed environments by touching the screen. This navigation not only reveals the micro-stories trapped in the floating balloons, it also creates macro-stories, in the users’ struggle to make connections and to make sense of the experience.


Unlike data visualization, audio mapping is not such a well-defined term, although it basically has the same properties. The process of mapping audio, too, includes the extraction of non-artistic data from data sources and the assignation of this information to sound parameters, with the help of algorithms. In a way, it can be regarded as a form of algorithmic composition, because it creates rules for translating numbers into a musical narrative. In my piece Autoimmune Disorder I exemplify audio mapping by transforming a list of statistics into pitches.


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