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Sonic Foundations Survey

Earlier in 2022, as I was working on data sonifications for several of the OOI Data Nuggets, I was becoming overwhelmed in design variation. I would create a frequency-mapped version; a filter mapping version; a synthesized and a sample-based sonification; a sonification with all three streams of data; three sonifications with separate data streams that could mix together later; a version without any normalization; a version with thresholds to indicate the different ocean processes contained in the data. Even with core lessons of the Data Nuggets created by the team, I was swimming in data-mapping options. To be fair, design variables abound in parameter mapping sonification (Grond and Berger 2011: 364).

Because “sonification engages the user in a sense-making process” that involves interaction with the immediate experience which itself draws upon one’s past experiences and culture (Barrass and Vickers 2011: 160), we created a Sonic Foundations sound collection that could be used to survey responses. Survey responses would help direct our sonification work by narrowing scope; users could help identify particular sound and mapping choices, sounds stemming from the scientific core lessons. For example, sonifications of the core lessons for the net flux of CO2 Between Ocean and Atmosphere hinge upon two fundamental sounds: the sound of outgassing and the sound of absorption. CO2 goes into the ocean (absorption). CO2 comes out of the ocean (outgassing). In order to assist with the sonification design, we would like to know what sounds or mappings users identify with for these phenomena, instead of relying on one sound designer’s idea of these phenomena. Due to the number of sounds and options, we limited the creation of our Sonic Foundations survey to only three of the five focused OOI Data Nuggets: Flux of CO2 Between Ocean and Atmosphere, 2015 Axial Seamount Eruption, and Daily Vertical Migration Gets Eclipsed.

We took extra time creating the online Qualtrics survey through testing media accessibility for screen readers. A forthcoming post will be on the results. We value user input as we consider the aesthetic and functional aspects of our design. This early user-centric design, we believe, will assist the development of qualitatively better sonifications. As one long-term goal is an accessible public exhibit of OOI ocean data, the co-design process is integral to that vision.


Barrass, S. and Vickers, P. Sonification design and aesthetics. In Hermann, T., Hunt, A., Neuhoff, J. G., editors, The Sonification Handbook, chapter 7, pages 145–171. Logos Publishing House, Berlin, Germany. 2011.

Grond, F. and Berger, J. Parameter mapping sonification. In Hermann, T., Hunt, A., Neuhoff, J. G., editors, The Sonification Handbook, chapter 15, pages 363–397. Logos Publishing House, Berlin, Germany. 2011.

Learn More

Learn more about data sonification.

Learn more about sound design.

Learn more about the parameters of sound.

by Jon Bellona


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