What Does Data Sound Like?

Field NotesThe Frontier

A quick note about this section

The creative process is one of constant discovery. You’re always looking for new ways of seeing, thinking and doing. Along the way, some things stand out and we put them in our Field Notes. This is a collection of ideas, places, people and things that we’ve found that we think are worth sharing and that all loosely fit within the theme of the issue.

Brian House effortlessly flows from data to code, artistic expression, music, and back again. This intersection of skill and understanding lends uniqueness and exacting clarity to his art. It's evident that only someone of his multifaceted nature could come up with his work; he is an artist who is helping us feel data.

Photography by
Brian House

House has a computer science degree from Columbia, an art degree from Chalmers and is working on a doctoral thesis in the departments of Music, Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. He has always been engaged in music and delved into the world of computing as a young teen. For his piece, Quotidian Record, both those disciplines worked in tandem, making a sort of alchemy. House collected his location data from his phone—the same data that Google, Apple and even the NSA use to track us. Then he tried to visualize it in different ways, working to give the data a sense of time. The result was visualizing it in a series of tight, concentric circles. As he pondered it further, he realized that it looked a lot like a record. He started working the numbers: 1 day lived would be one rotation. 1 rotation at 33 1/3 is 1.8 second and 1.8 seconds multiplied by 365 is 11 minutes. That’s the right amount of time for a side of a record.

quotidian record cover

When the math worked, he knew he had a project. He ended up pairing each city he visited with a musical key and each place to a musical interval. He utilized an algorithm to compose the music around places he was in briefly, locations that didn’t fit into the math of the record. Not only was this project already an intersection of programming, music and data, but the substrate itself, the record, provided a graphic stage to visualize that data further. Collaborating with designer, Greg Mihalko, a diagram of the music was crafted, portraying House’s temporal, geographical journey. The markings visualized a span of a year— its akin to a 24 hour clock and the range of lines displayed the different cities he traversed that year, the background being New York.

quotidian record back

House is looking for new ways of portraying data. Quotidian Record lent a new form using music, something that is sensual and emotive, rather than data visualization, which can be analytical and logical. Art like this, powered by data and explored through a kaleidoscope of craft, all used in concert to create meaning, will probably become even more common as the century moves on.

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