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Environmental sound

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Michaela Palmer
added 3 research items
In this paper we seek to further develop the concept/methodology of data sonification (see Palmer and Jones 2014) as an experimental aesthetic, geo-poetic, and techno-scientific creative procedure for making explicit the generative processuality of elemental landscape/ ecosystems/ habits. In continuing our explorations of data sonification using the example of tidal landscapes (inc. salt marshes) we refer to other artist/scholars have also recently sonified tidal data (Floodtide, Eacott) and forest ecology data (Living Symphonies, Jones/Bulley). Such data sonifications possess markedly differing qualities as forms of research/analysis because they depend on translations from process to process rather than from process to (static) representational object. The experience of duration is key hereby. Duration, commonly used to express spatial and temporal dimensions, also communicates (elemental) intensities, which according to Bergson allow one to grasp the very essence of time (Time and Free Will). Focusing on immersion (sea covering marsh in cyclical rhythms), exchange between ‘bodies’ (salt from water to plant and beyond), and other micro and macro temporalities of process, we seek to develop sonification towards a more elemental, ecological and experiential, rather than a purely quantitative, articulation (individual data streams), thus allowing sonification to respond to, and express, the great complexity of ongoing ecological becoming.
This paper consists of a discussion of data sonification-a procedure in which information gathered from systems such as bodies or environmental processes is analyzed and reprocessed into audio models, so aspects of the process generating the data (for example, emotional or tidal ebb and flow) can be apprehended by human senses. This serves various purposes relevant to geography. Firstly, it sets out the principles of sonification as a method, defining its basic principles and relating it to both qualitative and quantitative data. Secondly, it offers potential to geographic interests in process, times, rhythm, landscape, place, and more besides-'representing' various aspects of processes that are beyond normal human apprehension, perhaps through register, duration, pitch, and so on. Thirdly, in the illustrating examples, which comprise sonifications of tides and other processes in the Severn Estuary, UK, it highlights possibilities of engaging local communities and stakeholders with the dynamics of landscapes such as tidal processes, which have significant implications for culture, economy, and ecology, as do other tidal and other process geographies elsewhere.
The Severn Estuary in Southwest England deserves great attention: with an enormous tidal range and three million people living around its shores, it is a unique site of interlinked and clashing rhythms. Moreover, the passage over or under the estuary, industry and tourism affects a much wider, and not necessarily local, population group. This is the target audience for Sonic Severn, a small but growing online collection of soundscapes, sonifications and compositions about the Severn Estuary, curated by Tidal Severn. Using the example of a more recent data-driven sonification prototype that explores the Severn estuary rhythms, this paper discusses possible frameworks for larger, multi-dimensional sonifications. It explores the necessary compromises between quantifying and qualifying data that can influence listeners' interpretation of sounds, and discusses different kinds of 'accuracies' that may be applied in the creation of sonic representations. These accuracies are often connected with listeners' perceptions of how they are connected with this landscape. It is argued that skillful use of sound compositional techniques, data mapping and participatory practices can deepen and intensify listeners' experiences of generative processes.