Data Sonification: Sound as Information by Mark Ballora

Date: 25 July 2008
Venue: National University of Singapore, Cyberarts Studio
Time: 9.00am – 4.30pm
Workshop Capacity: 15 persons
Registration Fee: Non-delegates - $120 per person
For ISEA2008 Delegates - $40 per person


Audio is frequently an underutilized aspect of multi-media creation, often added quickly at the end of a process that has involved painstaking attention to visual elements. While no one questions the need for precision and care given to aspects such as color, shading, and composition, the role of sound is often neglected as a means of not only emotional content, but also immersion in virtual environments. Even when the role of sound as an environmental component is acknowledged, students in multi-media often are not adequately trained in the area of sound production to use audio effectively.

By the same token, visualization is an acknowledged component of research illustration, with a well-established vocabulary of methods. An example is the pie chart, which appears in specialized literature, and is commonly presented in junior high school-level math texts. Visualization methods have their shortcomings, however, which are often keenly felt in our Information Age, where new ways of gathering information are constantly being created, but it is not always clear how useful interpretations can be made from the multitude of information sources and the apparent “data deluge.” Just as the ears complement the eyes in our navigation of the world, so can auditory displays supplement or complement visual displays in the effective display of information.

Whether one is working as a sound designer or a scientific researcher, one is well served by an understanding of the role of audio and the kinds of information it conveys. This workshop will be presented in two parts, each of which will consist of mini-projects created by groups of 3-5 participants. Part one will consider the role of sound design in film, theatre, and multi-media. Students will be asked to create a sound design based on a production concept that might be presented by a director to a team of designers. Part two will consider sound as a component of an information display. Given a “dummy” data set, students will be asked to sonify the data in a way that effectively illuminates aspects of the dataset.

For both parts, students will be introduced to software tools that will enable them to realize audio conceptions.

Target Audience

This workshop will be appropriate for college-level students in new media, video, film, or music. No prior experience will be required, although experience with relevant software packages (Max/MSP, SoundTrack, Audacity) will be helpful. Learning outcomes will include an enhanced sensitivity to the role of audio as an essential production component, and an increased familiarity with the tools used in audio production.


Mark Ballora obtained a Ph.D in computer music applications in 2000 from McGill University. His thesis was on auditory displays, with applications in heart rate variability. He has published descriptions of the work in LEONARDO (v. 37, no. 1, 2004) and presented it at various conferences. He is currently associate professor of music technology at Penn State University. He is involved with creating sonifications for multi-disciplinary projects with the Center for Network-Centric Cognition and Information Fusion in the College of Information Science and Technology.

He is the author of the textbook Essentials of Music Technology (Prentice Hall, 2003), which is currently being translated into simplified Chinese. He has also written columns for Electronic Musician magazine's "Square One" series. His composition "Singularity" for flute and live computer processing has been performed at juried music festivals in the United States, Ireland, and China. He has also composed music for animated films, radio dramas, art exhibits, and modern dance works.

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