Two Scientists Are Turning Hurricanes Into Music

Tuesday, 12 December 2017 - 11:24AM
Weird Science
Earth
Tuesday, 12 December 2017 - 11:24AM
Two Scientists Are Turning Hurricanes Into Music
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Image credit: Pixabay
Hurricanes aren't particularly musical, unless you count the sound of car alarms and breaking glass. Other than that, it's primarily a deafening, terrifying howling.

Though most people don't stick around to soak in the acoustic soundscape of a tropical storm because, you know, it's just not a smart idea, two professors at Penn State University have figured out how to turn the chaos of a hurricane into music.

Well, kind of.

The project Professors Mark Ballora and Jenni Evans are working on is a type of "sonification," which involves turning data into sounds for use in education or research.

Here's how they describe the unique uses of sonifying data:

Opening quote
"Sonification is also good for discovery. Our eyes are good at detecting static properties, like color, size and texture. But our ears are better at sensing properties that change and fluctuate. Qualities such as pitch or rhythm may change very subtly, but still be sensed quite easily. The ears are also better than the eyes at following multiple patterns simultaneously, which is what we do when we appreciate the interlocking parts in a complex piece of music."
Closing quote


The professors took four key variables (air pressure, latitude, longitude and the asymmetry of the hurricane) and then plugged them into a computer program that converts those values into sounds. The project is still in its early stages, so we're not dealing with Top 40 radio hits here—more like abstract, warbling pitches.

Here are some samples:









Some of the potential applications for sonifying hurricanes involve radio broadcasts to civilians and low-data transmissions to smart phones, so people can hear just how bad a storm is.

Whether or not sonified hurricanes become a major boon to public safety, it's an interesting new frontier of music to explore—maybe future artists will forego pianos and guitars in favor of sonified heat graphs of the Grand Canyon, or musical expressions of cell division. 

Add a breakbeat and some synths, and boom, you've got a new album by the Mojave Desert ft. Pharrell.
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