SLU news

Complex data is portrayed with music

Published: 30 June 2022
David is playing on his keyboard in his livingroom. Photo.

When you want to reach a broad audience with complex scientific results, it can be difficult to explain the conclusions. Setting the data to music can be a solution. Together the notes may capture a large amount of data and communicate wicked problems such as climate change and mental illness, according to a recently published study.

The study, which focuses on the sonification of data describing a patient with a bipolar diagnosis, also has links to the communication of how ecosystems react to disturbances and climate change. David Angeler, lead author of the interdisciplinary study:

- Interdisciplinarity is the academic way of uniting different perspectives. Ecology is my starting point in the interdisciplinary journey. This is then combined with neuroscience, quantum physics, social science, philosophy, and more. Together, when we combine different perspectives we contribute to both a deeper and broader understanding.

Large amounts of data can contain patterns and connections that can be difficult to grasp. This is why we sort and systematize data in different ways. Through the method of allowing a data point to be represented by a note, the authors in the recently published study have tried to illustrate a dimension in bipolarity that can otherwise be difficult to grasp. The complexity of certain phenomena such as bipolarity is difficult to get across with just science, and needs another type of expression in order to make fully comprehensible. This is also true for complex problems such as climate changes.

Sonification of nature

The ecologist and lead author of the article David has previously worked with studies where data on climate change has been communicated via musical compositions. The sonification became a tool for making data on environmental changes easier to understand. In this manner, music becomes a way to make the complexity of ecosystems accessible. And the complex dynamics of nature.

David converted long time data sets of flood areas and precipitation data from a wetland, into a soprano and bass voice respectively. The composition describes the biophysical disturbance of the wetland caused by agriculture and how the natural aquatic environment disappears due to unsustainable use of limited water resources.

- For me, it is important to be able to express all the gray areas and patterns that exist and to create a broad understanding of both the environment, as well as mental illness. Music, as a method of communication, is a way for me to bring changes about with my research, not just describe.

The commitment to these issues has recently led David to become appointed as an honorary fellow at the Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation, Deakin University in Australia. He considers this to be a sign of how important multidiscliplinarity is, and how important it is to be able to communicate science with the goal to contribute to solving current and future problems.