Sonic Information IMG_20160825_101131

Ana Laws and Stephen Barrass: “Media design for journalism”

Seminar hosted by Prof. Lars Nyre  at the University of Bergen Department of Information Science and Media Studies on Thursday August 25th, 2016.


The ‘aesthetic turn’ in data visualisation has sparked debates between the new wave and older more scientifically grounded schools of thought on the topic. Sonification is not as well known or commonly practiced as visualisation. But sound is a naturally affective, aesthetic and cultural medium. Could the extension of the aesthetic turn to sonification transform this field from a scientific curiosity and engineering instrument into a popular mass medium ?

The presentation begins with some historical examples of data sonification as an instrument for observation in science, engineering and medicine. I then move on to describe the aesthetic turn in sonification and propose Sonic Information Design as a pragmatic aesthetics that distinguishes sonification from the auditory sciences and sonic arts. This proposal is supported by examples where sonification has been appropriated as a medium for mass communication about social issues, such as the war in Iraq, the size of the US nuclear arsenal, and the uptake of auditory graphs by BBC Current Affairs that includes sonifications of recent news such as Brexit and the EU immigration crisis. My speculation is that a design orientation coupled with a journalistic application may lead to a future where the general public tunes in to listen to sonifications about the world around them as well as for listening pleasure.

Keywords:  Sonification, Digital Journalism, Information design, Popular culture, Data aesthetics

Scientific Discovery !

Sonification of Gravity Waves

Instruments of Observation

Geiger Counter

Pulse Oximeter

From MIDI to Metaphor

River and Rain

Sonification of Rowing

Hypertension Singing Bowl

The Aesthetic Turn in Sonification

Listening to the Mind Listening

Iraq Body Count – Guillaume Potard

US Nuclear Arsenal – Ben Cohen

Sound of the Ngunnawal – Simon Rose

ICAD 2016 Concert

Digital Journalism

Audio Graphs from BBC Current Affairs (thanks to Tony Stockman)

Brexit and the Falling Pound

The sound of the migration crisis

60 years of interest rates in 60 seconds

Buzz-words from presidential debates

Falling infant mortality rates


Barrass S. (2011) The Aesthetic Turn in Sonification Towards a Social and Cultural Medium, AI & SOCIETY: Volume 27, Issue 2 (2012), Page 177-181, Springer Press, London.