Sonification of Physical Matter for the Artists Process.

Being able to hear the molecule structure of a rock, or the process of cells being created, the human brainwaves, or the formation and structure of the world wide web is a process called sonification.

Sonification is an auditory display, it requires an interdisciplinary approach in fields that include Physics, Audiology, Audio Engineering, Computer Science, Product Design, Acoustics, and Sound Design. Since the formation of The International Community for Auditory Display (ICAD) began in 1992, Herman, Hunt, Neuhoff, Logos (2011, 1), sonification has become another technique for artists, designers and scientists to present their found data. Due to the invention of computing and new technologies, forward thinkers, scientists, artists, and physicists are able to transmit their found data into an audible presentation. Having audible data alongside visual data could assist in developing new ideas and concepts. The presentation of audible data strengthens our perceptualization.


Sonification is very different from sound art and music, it is the audible transmission of information and data. The world we live in is full of visual and auditory stimulation. Atoms, molecules, form, matter, and objects all contain a code or form of data. Frequency is another source of universal communication and code that is used by living and non-living matter.  If human beings were able to transpose all the coding, communication and these frequencies were audible to the human ear our sensory system would overload, we can, however, use technology as the source of research and presentation.

In the field of sonification, there is a wealth of complex concepts for the artists to use as inspiration. The artist would need to familiarise themselves in subjects of physics, computer science, psychology, acoustics and audio design and approach their chosen subject or object in a multidisciplinary approach using the listed fields to process their final piece. Having to use so many processes, academia may argue that the artist’s conceptual final piece may be diluted through the many processes used. The artist may also lack knowledge in the required fields and will be constrained by their abilities, which will have a negative effect on their final piece. If the artists presents its final piece as sonification without visuals, the viewer may find the final piece has lost conceptual value and aesthetically lack in presence.

There are many artists presenting their work in sonification such as Aftershock (Natasha Barratt, Karen Mair, 2014).  The work was exhibited in Gallery ROM, Oslo in 2011 it is the sonification of the meteorological data found in real time. The artists and physicist working on the collaboration are hoping that the research and process that was presented would assist to the knowledge of learning rock defragmentation pattern, which influences earthquakes. Electrical Walks (Christine Kubisch, 2004), this piece is the invention and use of headphones that pick up electromagnetic fields. An Instrument for the sonification of everyday things (Paul Dennis, 2012) is a laser that converts a physical object into sound.

Physical matter based sonification is still in its infancy. Due to the growth of the world wide web artists are able to research and collaborate with each other in most parts of the world. There are many Institutes and Communities to be found that specialize in the process of MBS, matter-based sonification.


There are many organizations throughout the web using open source, such as Fablab, where the artists can find coding and information on MBS that can assist their process. The skill set of a sonic artist requires an understanding of multiple subjects, they need to approach their work as a scientist, computer programmer, designer, and artist. This approach educates the artists on many levels and enriches the final piece. The ability to present your work through sonification, as an artist allows the viewer to have multiple perceptional experiences within the work presented. 


Below is an interesting variety of different approaches into the sonification of matter, which includes the use of a laser taking recordings from the silhouette of the item, and the film below is Fermi Gamma-Ray data that been converted into music.


Physics in Tune

Dennis Paul has created a musical instrument called, An Instrument for the Sonification of Everyday things. Click here to watch video demo


Kubisch, C 2004, Electrical Walks, Festival Klangraum- Raumklang, Cologne.

Miranda, Eduardo Reck, and Marcelo M. Wanderley. New digital musical instruments: control and interaction beyond the keyboard. Vol. 21. AR Editions, Inc., 2006.

Reas, Casey, and Ben Fry. Processing: a programming handbook for visual designers and artists. Vol. 6812. Mit Press, 2007.

Hermann, Thomas. “Taxonomy and definitions for sonification and auditory display.” (2008).

Reas, Casey, and Chandler McWilliams. Form+ Code: In Design, Art, and Architecture. Princeton Architecturel Press, 2010.

Hermann, Thomas, and Andy Hunt. The sonification handbook. Berlin, GE: Logos Verlag, 2011.

Dennis, P 2012, An Instrument for the Sonification of every day things.

Franinović, Karmen, and Stefania Serafin. Sonic interaction design. Mit Press, 2013.

Barrett, N. & Mair, K. 2014, “Aftershock: A science-art collaboration through sonification”, Organised Sound, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 4-16.

Vickery, L. (2014). The Limitations of Representing Sound and Notation on Screen. Organised Sound, 19, pp 215-227.

Published by liannemorgan

BA (Hons), MFA. I use a Multi-Disciplinary approach to create my work in both Music and Art. I use Science, Technology, and other Artists to inspire my process and create my work.

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