Skip to content

Collected Definitions of Sonification

Having taught classes on sonification prior to the NSF pilot, I have found many working definitions for sonification. The differences in language around the term make a difference, and placing definitions side-by-side reveals some of their nuances and shading. The complexity and nuances are important, so I thought it would be a good idea to collect a few of them together, here in one place.

Sonification is...

"a mapping of numerically represented relations in some domain under study to relations in an acoustic domain for the purposes of interpreting, understanding, or communicating relations in the domain under study. There are two parts to this definition: a technique and an intent" (Scaletti 1994: 224).

"...the use of nonspeech audio to convey information. More specifically, sonification is the transformation of data relations into perceived relations in an acoustic signal for the purposes of facilitating communication or interpretation.” (Kramer et al. 1999)

“...the data-dependent generation of sound, if the transformation is systematic, objective and reproducible” (Hermann 2008).

“the transformation of nonsonic data into audible sound” (Sterne and Akiyama 2012: 545).

"...has three necessary and sufficient components: a process, a goal, and a loop-back path for interactive iteration and refinement. Process: Sonification is taking data generated by a model, captured in an experiment, or otherwise gathered from observation, and mapping those data to one or more parameters of an audio signal or sound synthesis model" (Scaletti 2018: 365).

"...the auditory equivalent of scientific visualization" (Hermann n.d.).

The Goal of Sonification is...

"...the purposes of facilitating communication or interpretation" (Kramer et al., 1999).

“ better understand, communicate, or reason about the original model, experiment, or system” (Scaletti 2018).

Sonification Discourse (Art & Science)

“A single painting of the sunset tells us how the sunset felt to the artist and can convey those feelings forever. A mathematical model of the movement of the solar system (including the material constitution of the sun, and local environmental conditions) allows us to predict whether a given sunset will be spectacular, run-of-the-mill, or completely obscured by clouds. Both can inform our behavior and serve our memories, both grab us at the nexus of feeling and thought, emotion and interpretation, brain and heart” (Levitin, 2009: 185-6).

“...the practice of turning data into sound as yet has no obvious epistemic center, and its overall impact on the arts and sciences is as yet unclear. Simply put, sonification is the use of nonspeech sound to convey information” (Sterne and Akiyama 2012: 548).

"...attempt at disciplinary respectability is complicated by the relative impermeability of the boundaries of art and science.... this push-pull between art and science has played out in sonification discourse" (Sterne and Akiyama 2012: 551).

“The goal and purpose of data sonification is to aid in understanding, exploring, interpreting, communicating, and reasoning about a phenomenon, an experiment, or a model, whereas in sound art, the goal is to make an audience think by creating a flow of experience for them - sometimes fostering an experience of ecstasy, in the literal sense of being outside one's self” (Scaletti 2018).


Scaletti, Carla. “Sound Synthesis Algorithms for Auditory Data Representations.” In Auditory Display: Sonification, Audification and Auditory Interfaces, edited by Gregory Kramer, 18:223–52. Proceedings Volume 18, Santa Fe Institute Studies in the Sciences of Complexity. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1994.

Kramer, G., Walker, B.N., Bonebright, T., Cook, P., Flowers, J., Miner, N., et al. (1999). The Sonification Report: Status of the Field and Research Agenda. Report prepared for the National Science Foundation by members of the International Community for Auditory Display. Santa Fe, NM: International Community for Auditory Display (ICAD).

Hermann, Thomas. Taxonomy and definitions for sonification and auditory display. Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Auditory Display (ICAD), Paris, France. 2008.

Hermann, Thomas. Sonification. Accessed July 7, 2022.

Levitin, Daniel J. The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature. New York, NY: Plume, 2009.

Sterne, Jonathan and Mitchell Akiyama. “The Recording That Never Wanted To Be And Other Stories of Sonification.” In Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies. Ed. Trevor Pinch and Karin Bijsterveld. Oxford University Press, New York. 2012: 544-560.

Scaletti, Carla. “Sonification ≠ Music.” In Oxford Handbook of Algorithmic Composition, edited by Roger T. Dean and Alex McLean, 1:363--385. Oxford University Press, 2018.

Learn More

Learn more about sonification.

Learn more about data mapping.

Learn more about the parameters of sound.

by Jon Bellona


Follow this blog

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

Email address