9 episodes

The world's first podcast turning data into music. Join Duncan Geere and Miriam Quick as they use data sonification to create a series of original musical compositions from data about climate change, inequality, beer, and more.

Loud Numbers Loud Numbers

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.8 • 5 Ratings

The world's first podcast turning data into music. Join Duncan Geere and Miriam Quick as they use data sonification to create a series of original musical compositions from data about climate change, inequality, beer, and more.

    Data is Plural: Canadian Wildfires

    Data is Plural: Canadian Wildfires

    If you liked our episode about Canada's intense 2023 wildfire season - Hold the Line, then you'll love this episode of the Data is Plural podcast, who we collaborated with.

    In it, Jeremy Singer-Vine interviews Bruce Macnab, head of Canada's Wildland Fire Information System, featured in the June 14, 2023 edition of the Data Is Plural newsletter. Bruce describes how his team gathers that information, the obstacles they face, how they deal with uncertainty and varying source quality, and how their approach has changed in the decade since the project launched.

    Check out more episode of the Data is Plural podcast at https://podcast.data-is-plural.com/

    • 16 min
    Hold the Line

    Hold the Line

    Canada is no stranger to wildfires. Since the last Ice Age more than eleven thousand years ago, at least half of the country’s huge landmass has been covered in forest, with small, naturally-occurring fires as a vital part of that ecosystem. 

    But the wildfire season of 2023 was different. Climate change, along with decades of short-sighted forest management policy, resulted in the largest fire season in North American history. Over the course of a few short months, a full five percent of the country’s forests were reduced to ash, while smoke caused air pollution emergencies across the whole continent.

    Hold the Line is a piece of sound art generated by data from Canada’s 2023 wildfire season. Every single fire that was reported by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fires Centre between 1 April and 30 November is represented by a click sound, with each real-world day playing out over 2.5 seconds of sound. A bass note drops at the start of each new day.

    Fires started by humans are represented by the distinctive ‘ting’ sound of a Zippo lighter, fires that started naturally by the sound of wood crackling (which sounds like a high click), and fires of unknown cause by a generic ignition sound (which sounds like a low-pitched lighter flicking on). During the worst of the season, you’ll hear more than 220 fires in a single day.

    The background rumble represents the area of forest that burned that day. The larger the area burned that day, the louder, harsher and longer-lasting the sound. When many large fires burn for days, the rumbles blend into a roar. You’ll also hear a growing stack of musical notes that represent the cumulative area that has been burnt. As more forest is burned over time, more notes are added to the stack.

    Finally, you’ll hear the voice of Fern Yip. Fern runs the Earthkin Wilderness School in the forests of British Columbia, and narrates the passing of each month — describing her experiences of fire during that season.

    This episode was a collaboration between Loud Numbers and the Data is Plural podcast. In the fourth episode of the second season of Data is Plural, you can hear Bruce Macnab, head of Canada’s Wildland Fire Information System, describes how his team gathers information, the obstacles they face, how they deal with uncertainty and varying source quality, and how their approach has changed in the decade since the project launched.

    • 22 min
    Interview: Loud Numbers & Future Ecologies

    Interview: Loud Numbers & Future Ecologies

    It’s been a while since you last heard from us on this podcast feed, but don't worry - we’ve been busy doing lots and lots of sonification work! Check out loudnumbers.net to see some of our recent projects, and decibels.community to join our community of sonification enthusiasts. You should also sign up to our newsletter, if you'd like to hear from us more often - you can do that at loudnumbers.net too.

    In the meantime, we wanted to share the following eight-minute trailer of an interview we did with the amazing Future Ecologies podcast, who we recently worked with to sonify phylogenetic data about jumping spiders. The full interview is an exclusive for their Patreon subscribers - so if you want to hear that, then go sign up at futureecologies.net. Enjoy!

    • 9 min
    The End of the Road

    The End of the Road

    The End of the Road is a requiem for lost biodiversity, driven by a sonification of data on insect population decline, sourced from the scientific paper listed below. The scientist who wrote it, Anders Pape Møller, drove rental cars along two stretches of road in Denmark almost daily every summer, for two decades. Then he counted the insects killed on his windscreen. He found an 80-97% reduction in their numbers between 1997 and 2017.

    You can hear two layers of data encoded in the music. The number of insects splattered onto Møller’s car each month is represented by the number of fluttering synth sounds in a bar. Higher sounds represent smaller insects, while lower sounds correspond to larger insects. As the number of insects falls, the sounds fall silent and the track empties out.

    There’s also a synth pad with a falling melody. The notes are based on the measured 1.1% a year decline in global land-based insect populations. Every time insect numbers fall 5%, the melody drops down a note.

    This track is the sound of driving through a vast, desolate landscape on a distant highway, with insects hitting your windscreen. There are ambient sound effects – cars zooming past, birds singing. There’s a sparse texture that gets even sparser as the insects disappear over time. Finally, there’s a funeral bell that tolls for every year that passes in the dataset.

    The track covers the years 1997 - 2017 inclusive.

    Insect population data from Møller’s paper was published in Dryad Data: https://datadryad.org/stash/dataset/doi:10.5061/dryad.gq73493

    We also used this errata as a reference for the 1.1% per year decline in land-based insect populations globally: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/370/6515/eabf1915

    It’s not data, but for more info on the Dies Irae sequence, check out this episode of 20kHz: https://www.20k.org/episodes/diesirae

    • 12 min
    A Symphony of Bureaucracy

    A Symphony of Bureaucracy

    The European Union is a truly unique political entity, and an economic, diplomatic, and cultural superpower. Perhaps the EU’s greatest achievement is that all this has been done through democratic lawmaking - not through armed force.

    That lawmaking results in a lot of paperwork, and it’s this glorious bureaucracy that we wanted to celebrate when we came up with the idea to do a Loud Numbers episode on the EU, in the same year that our home country, Britain, left.

    In this sonification, we took a database of all the laws ever passed by the EU and its precursors - a whopping 142,036 of them, from 1952 to 2019 - and created a piece of classical music that reflects the amount of lawmaking going on over time.

    We turned the data into a fugue - a musical form where two or more melodic lines, or ‘voices’, interweave around each other based on strict rules. Each line begins with a short, specific string of notes, known as a subject. This subject is then repeated in every subsequent voice as it comes in, often in different keys, or sometimes even turned upside down.

    There’s only one encoding - the number of laws made each year, which is mapped to the number of voices. Two bars of music equals one year of data. When there are only a few laws being made that year, there are only one or two voices. When there are a lot of laws, there are a lot of melodies – up to eight at once. It’s a simple mapping, but the result is far from simple.

    And the subject of the fugue? You’ll recognise it as the first part of the European Anthem - Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, as arranged by Wendy Carlos in the soundtrack of Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”. Our choice of retro synth sounds is a nod to Carlos.

    The track covers the years 1952-2019 inclusive.

    There’s just a single data reference: the European Union’s EUR-Lex Eurovoc database: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/browse/eurovoc.html

    • 12 min
    Boom & Bust

    Boom & Bust

    Boom & Bust tells the story of the US economy since the late 1960s – through data sonification.

    It’s a rollercoaster ride of growth and decline, told through a UK jungle track that maps the Amen break to the state of the US economy each quarter. One bar of track time represents one financial quarter in the data. When the drum loop plays forwards, the economy is going strong. But when the US economy starts cooling down and spinning backwards into recession, so does the music. Listen out for the airhorn when the US economy starts growing again.

    Additionally Boom & Bust sonifies the value of the Dow Jones industrial average, which tracks the performance of 30 leading companies in the United States. It’s mapped to a gentle, wispy synthesizer, which rises in pitch as the Dow Jones rises.

    The track also tracks the dramatic rise of inequality since the late 1960s. In 1968, when the data begins, the poorest half of the US population took home about 20% of national income, while the richest 1% laid claim to about a tenth. Today, those proportions are reversed. The volume of the ‘badman’ sample represents the share of national income going to the richest 1%.

    Samples of politicians and other notable figures are scattered throughout the track, telling the story of what’s happening at approximately that point in time. Finally, the bass drops in years when there was a presidential election.

    The US economy is like a party: not everyone’s invited.

    The track covers the time period from Q1 1968 to Q1 2020 inclusive.

    Recession data was provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/JHDUSRGDPBR

    Quarterly historical figures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average come from Stooq: https://stooq.com/q/d/?s=%5Edji&c=0&d1=19670101&d2=20200903&i=q

    • 12 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
5 Ratings

5 Ratings

ATorb ,

Fascinating and creative

I’ve never heard a podcast like this before!

ceedeemmm ,

I’m ready to learn

Thanks Miriam and Duncan for the trailer and launch, I’m ready for podcast #1. I have worked with data visualization and statistics education since the 1980s, we dabbled in data sonification then, we dabble in sonification now, and I’m ready for the team that can get us beyond the perpetual novice level.

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