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Mapping the sound of WWW for its 30th birthday

Published: 12 March 2019 at 11:00


Sir Tim Berners-Lee presented with composition by Anglia Ruskin academic at CERN

To celebrate the 30th birthday of the World Wide Web, an Anglia Ruskin University scientist and a fellow researcher from the University of Exeter have composed a new piece of music based on the blueprint for its design.

While working at CERN in Switzerland in 1989, British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee published a paper containing a plan for transferring information within the organisation, which went on to become the world’s very first website

Dr Domenico Vicinanza, from Anglia Ruskin University, and Dr Genevieve Williams, from the University of Exeter, have used a process called data sonification to translate some of the key phrases used in the original 1989 paper into musical notes.

Berners-Lee’s achievements are being celebrated at CERN’s headquarters, near Geneva, and in keeping with the 1989 theme, Berners-Lee was presented with the piece of music on a 1989 cassette Walkman.

The music tracks the history of the World Wide Web from the early days. The piece starts with a piano solo, with a melody created by sonifying the title of one of the most striking section of his paper “A solution: Hypertext”, where the fundamental idea of linking documents is introduced. The piano notes are alone at the beginning, as the first web server was alone in its mission to share information. As more websites are created, more melodic lines are then introduced. 

The music develops, capturing the most important events in the history of the web. For example, the big revolution that happened with the introduction of blogs, social media and data sharing (the web 2.0), is clearly audible in the score. The key changes from F to A flat major and all the instruments start communicating and interacting, exchanging music ideas and echoing fragments that are constantly transformed.

Dr Vicinanza, who in addition to his role at Anglia Ruskin University is also a Senior Research Engagement Officer at GÉANT, the European Network for Research and Education, said:

“It’s an honour to be celebrating Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a visionary scientist and the father of the World Wide Web, which was initially conceived as a practical way to share information. 

“His design grew from an ‘intranet’ within CERN to an infrastructure that allows information and data to be shared on a truly massive, global scale.  Therefore it seems entirely fitting to mark the 30th anniversary with a piece of music based on data and words contained within that original proposal.”

Dr Williams added:


“The story of this piece starts with a revolutionary, but simple and somehow magical development. The richness in the music captures how we are now surrounded and consumed by the power of the web. 

“The final part of the piece echoes the initial melody, as the original, simple but very powerful idea of connecting documents together in the hyperspace, is and will always be the backbone and the soul of the World Wide Web.”

Further information about CERN’s 30th anniversary celebrations are available on their special website https://home.cern/events/web30