Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
A winning audio design project lets you listen to the sound of your city's environmental data, in real time.
If you're the type of person who has no great love for spreadsheets, it can be hard to really get in to the concept of powerful data. Numbers can feel so big—or so, so small—that it becomes overwhelming. But what if you could listen to your city's data, instead of just staring at it? The winner of a recent data art contest has sought to make the intangible a little bit more so with a project that transforms real-time environmental data from seven international cities into unique and ever-changing "songs."
The Sense Your City contest, hosted by the media network Data Canvas, began its project by teaching interested volunteers how to how install DIY sensors around seven cities—San Francisco, Boston, Rio de Janeiro, Geneva, Bangalore, Singapore and Shanghai—between December 2014 and February 2015. The sensors, 14 in each city, measure pollution, dust, light, sound, temperature, and humidity. The group then opened its data and asked artists and designers to use it to do ... something.
Out of 34 entrants, Data Canvas picked three. (You can see them all here.) But for audiophiles, the best entry is by Kasper Fangel Skov, an audio and digital designer from Denmark. His project, "sonic particles 2.0," is an aural composition that reflects the constantly updated environmental data set.
You can download the "sonic particles 2.0" application onto your computer here. (That's the only way to hear the current data, which is updated every 5 seconds.) Alternatively one can also listen to excerpts from the "songs" of each city below. Forget those noise-cancelling headphones: Just listen to the bleepy-bloops of the continuously shifting city as you work.