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Scientists produce short tune for longest day

Published: 24 September 2018 at 14:50

Dr Domenico Vicinanza

Dr Vicinanza of Anglia Ruskin is asked by BBC to compose music using data sonification

The longest day of the year, as experienced by BBC Radio 4, has been transformed into a three-and-a-half-minute piece of music for a special programme called Data Stream Day.  

Dr Domenico Vicinanza, a scientist at Anglia Ruskin University, was asked by the BBC to produce a piece of music which combined twitter messages sent to BBC Radio 4 over the course of 21 June with the changing position of the sun over Broadcasting House.  

Using a process called data sonification Dr Vicinanza, Director of Anglia Ruskin’s Sound And Game Engineering (SAGE) Research Group, worked with Dr Genevieve Williams of the University of Exeter, to produce the quartet for flute, violin, viola and cello. 

Data sonification can play an important role in helping to explain scientific discoveries to a wide audience, and the pair have previously written music using data from NASA spacecraft and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. 

Because the human ear is more accurate than our eyes at detecting very subtle changes, scientists believe that data sonification is suited to a wide range of applications and Dr Vicinanza has previously researched its use in analysing cancer biopsies. 

For the Data Stream Day programme, to be broadcast on Monday morning, Dr Vicinanza and Dr Williams used the composition of selected tweets to form the melody, while the tempo for the piece was based on the sun’s changing position above Broadcasting House.

Dr Vicinanza said: 

“We were delighted to be approached by the BBC, who wanted to show how we are using music to help describe science, and scientific discoveries, to a wide audience.  

“The piece of music we composed for BBC Radio 4 is an entertaining way of showcasing data sonification, which is an exciting area of research and one which I believe we will see and hear a lot more of in future years.  And it was particularly pleasing to hear our composition played by the very talented musicians from the BBC in Glasgow.”