September 4, 2012
We’ve heard several attempts to sonify (make audible) stock market and other such data. Last week, we heard The Listening Machine, software that continuously observes a social network of 500 Tweeters and algorithmically translates their messages and emotions into “music.” And someone even sonified the elusive Higgs Boson recently. All these data-sonification attempts are interesting (although perhaps not very useful) but they do not truly represent the data. Instead, they massage it into pleasing, music-like sounds.
An accurate sonification of stock market data, for example, would not constrain prices to the frequencies of the musical scale, but would produce a dissonant mix of pitches. Back in September 2011, I sonified the DJIA to hear the 1987 crash (audio provided below). To do this, I first chose a time value for each datum, and then used software that squeezed the total high-low range of the price data into the 88-note range of the piano keyboard and rounded each value to the nearest note. It is about four minutes long, and I’ve included a chart so you can follow along, Mitch Miller style. You will notice two things: this is not pretty music, and anticipating a market top can be excruciating!
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