Artist News CMU Approved Digital Releases

Approved: Loud Numbers

By | Published on Tuesday 8 June 2021

Loud Numbers

Data sonification is the process of taking information and presenting it as sound. Like an aural graph. It can be an interesting way to digest data and help you to consider that information in a new light. However, it is rarely something you might say you actually enjoyed, and even less likely to be something you’d drop into a DJ set. That, my friends, is where new podcast Loud Numbers comes in.

Presented by data journalists Miriam Quick and Duncan Geere, each episode of the show introduces a piece of music created using a set of statistics. So confident are they that their compositions stand up on their own, each track will also be available on streaming services without the attached explanation.

“The idea for Loud Numbers came about because I wanted to listen to a data sonification podcast and couldn’t find one”, says Geere. “I searched far and wide, but eventually realised that if I wanted this thing to exist I’d just have to make it myself”.

“I approached Miriam to team up because I knew she’d done some previous work turning data into music and she has a lot of knowledge of musical theory that I lack”, he goes on. “She’s the brains of the operation, though I’m not sure what that makes me. Probably the enthusiasm?”

Quick adds: “When we started Loud Numbers we weren’t too impressed by most other sonification work that we’d heard. It was very plinky-plonky, not very musical. Our goal, from the outset, was to create music that you’d want to press play on more than once. We’ve since discovered many talented sonification artists, but the community is scattered across academia, design and music. We hope that our podcast can help to bring this community together”.

Out now, the first episode features arms-in-the-air techno track ‘The Natural Lottery’. Although possibly arms-in-the-air followed by hands-to-the-face. It uses data from an annual competition held in the Alaskan town of Nenana, where for more than 100 years residents have bet on when in the year the ice on the local river will break as temperatures rise at the end of the winter.

Synth chords represent the date of each year’s ice break-up, going up and down in pitch depending on where the date appears in the year. As you might expect, these chords begin to rise higher at an increasing rate as we get closer to the end of the track and the present day.

Sounds representing the number of sun spots there were each year shimmer in and out over the top of the track. Meanwhile, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is represented by a siren that stays low in the mix for much of the track but builds quickly to an alarming climax as the track concludes.

‘The Natural Lottery’ is an incredibly clear explanation of climate change. Whether or not you feel comfortable dancing to that is up to you. I’ll tell you this though: You definitely could. And if you played it to someone who didn’t know what it was in advance, they wouldn’t question its validity as a piece of music. Also, once they’d heard it, it would take a matter of seconds for them to understand the basics of what it represents.

So, a pretty successful first effort. For episode two – out on 21 Jun – they will be representing beer tasting notes, which in many ways seems like a much bigger challenge. The remainder of the first series (and the debut Loud Numbers EP) will cover US inequality, EU bureaucracy, and the decline of insect populations.

Listen to the first episode of Loud Numbers below, and ‘The Natural Lottery’ as a standalone track here.