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What is Sonification

What is Data Sonification

Sonification has many definitions; at the core, sonification is sound that carries information about "a phenomenon, an experiment, or a model" (Scaletti 2018). Sonification involves the process of transforming "data relations into perceived relations in an acoustic signal" (Kramer et al. 1999), and the transformation is "to aid in understanding, exploring, interpreting, communicating, and reasoning" (Scaletti 2018) of the original source.

One of the earliest successful sonifications is the Geiger counter. A Geiger counter transforms ionizing radiation into sound (in real-time!), clicking every time radiation ionization occurs. You can imagine how this would be important if you worked in a laboratory using radiation or were working to clean up a radioactive spill. As you moved the Geiger counter across the room, the clicks would increase as you got closer to the source of the radiation - click…click…….click click click click!!! Better get your protective gear on!

Like visualizations of information, sonification involves choices by humans about how information is presented or transformed. Transforming data into sound requires mapping from one domain (e.g., the values from a data sensor) into the sound domain. Often, numbers are mapped onto some sound parameter (e.g., frequency or amplitude). In some cases, the sonification designer explores musical mappings, like mapping different data streams onto different orchestral instruments. Yet, sound includes more than just musical instruments and notes. Sonifications can generate sounds that don't sound like music at all. Just listen to the ear-iconic Geiger counter!

Our work involves designing sounds that communicate ocean phenomena. We are working toward a co-design process that involves blind and visually-impaired students and their teachers as part of the sonification design process.

Want to Learn More?

Learn about the parameters of sound.
Learn about data mapping.
Learn about sound design.



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

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). (Semantic Scholar online link)

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.


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