Can disciplines that do not work with sound, profit from listening? Is a sonic focus on data a means to introduce listening to all disciplines?

And working through this: How can we represent and communicate data through sound? What are the ways by which a sonic sensibility can enrich data representation and interpretation? What can a sonic rendering of data yield? And how can it bring listening to all disciplines?

These were the questions we are asking ourselves in the last part of this research project where we work with Prof. Tania Burchardt and Dr. Bert Provan from CASE, (The Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion), a multi-disciplinary research centre based at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and Dr. Sandra Pauletto, a sonification Designer and Associate Professor in Media Technology in the Interaction Design Department at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, to engage in the possibilities of sonification. This collaboration focuses on data used by the social policies and distributional outcomes in a changing Britain (SPDO) research programme at CASE to discuss and experiment with sonification tools and strategies in order to ultimately develop a different representation of the same data in sound. Below you can read about what happened when Dr Pauletto worked through this data, producing sonification examples. This serves to put forward and establish whether listening to non-sonic information (e.g. numerical data, graphs) can generate new insights and new knowledge.

However, the questions that initiated this collaboration had originated much earlier, on a visit the PI undertook to CERN, The European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, Switzerland in August 2016. This visit took place in the frame of the network project that preceded this project, Listening across Disciplines I, and on the kind invitation by Dr. Steve Goldfarb, a particle physicist from the University of Melbourne working on the ATLAS Experiment at CERN. On the fabulously interesting tour through the laboratories that he generously offered,, what was most memorable were the numerous digital and analogue visualisation devices that constantly translated and communicated what was happening underground in the Large Hadron Collider.

The interview made with Dr. Goldfarb sadly and amateurly got distorted in the Alpine wind, but maybe that did not matter. What did matter and lead on to this future research was the discussion around visualisation and visualisation devices and their primacy in scientific research and communication. How they instil trust and a sense of reliability through a cultural belief in visual veracity and comparability.  We “read” the image through an entrained visuo-cultural literacy and believe to know what goes on, even in the most miniscule and thus invisible particles of the world. It led to a discussion on whether these micro particles would not much better be



Three data graphs showing relative poverty, anchored poverty and relative child poverty, all in relation to ethnicity from 2010-2019

“visualised” through sound, offering a dimensionality that can include their intangible, invisible, relational matter? And whether a sonic reading should be done through field recording underground in the Large Hadron Collider, or afterwards through a sonification of its data to make visible and thinkable what cannot be seen?

The conversation was very much helped by Dr. Goldfarb’s own experience as a musician, and his generous enthusiasm for his subject and for sound. But it was also contained in an efficiency and in convention, that it was done this way now and that due to time and financial constraints, unless somebody came along to prove that sound could offer something more the visual would do.  

Ever since, this notion of sound potentially offering something “more” remained an inspiration and a quest. Could the invisible and relational dimension of sound, with its affective and tacit knowledge capacity offer other insights, new readings, open different relationships and interpretations to what data might show us?  Can sonification offer additional information rather than just show the same differently? Or does in fact its invisible and non-containable materiality breach the notion of representation all together and invite us to consider not what we know from the visual and a visual language of representation, but what we cannot know visually, what is beyond its frame of reference, what eludes its interpretation, what stands in excess and potentially troubles its formats and veracity?

These are the questions and intentions we brought to this collaboration. A sincere interest in delivering an additional means to access and represent social exclusion data, as well as to learn what data means beyond the visual. And with a real interest also to develop a critical ear for conventional sonification, to not let it simply produce a musical rendition of data;  not to let it be aesthetically pleasing either. But to probe whether it can genuinely reveal another perspective on information, data and knowledge, to question its self-evidence and expand how and what we know.

Beneath is a series of blog posts that document how the work with sonification has developed within this project.

Sonification of Social Science Data

Sandra Pauletto is sitting at a computer console creating data sonifications

In June 2021, LxDII moved into a new phase of research with its partner: the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), London School of Economics. Dr Tania Burchardt and Dr Bert Provan shared their research on the different dimensions of social disadvantage, particularly from longitudinal and neighbourhood perspectives, as well as impacts on public … Continued

Radio broadcasts on Resonance FM: Series 2

A flyer for the radio broadcast series with the words A series of weekly broadcasts on responance FM from March 1st 18.30 UK time.

LxDII are very proud to announce the release of our second series of radio broadcasts on Resonance 104.4 FM. This series presents listening as a professional practice, diagnostic strategy and investigative method in the fields of audiology, engineering, museums, pedagogy, archives, sonification and sound arts. The programmes will air at 6.30pm (UK time) on Tuesdays … Continued

Phase 5: Data Sonification

profile photo of Sandra Pauletto

  LXDII has moved into a new phase of research with its partner: the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), London School of Economics. Dr Tania Burchardt and Dr Bert Provan are sharing their research on the different dimensions of social disadvantage, particularly from longitudinal and neighbourhood perspectives, as well as impacts on public … Continued