Sonification of Scientific Data

Main researcher: Alexandra Supper

alex_diss This project investigated the practice of the auditory display of scientific data, also known as data sonification. Since the early 1990s, a small interdisciplinary community of scientists and artists has been systematically exploring the possibility of using sound to represent scientific data – sometimes as an alternative, other times as a supplement to the more established practice of data visualization. The project has traced the emergence of the sonification community, and in particular, their efforts to have listening to scientific data accepted as a credible scientific technique. The fact that sonification has received increasing media attention in recent years has not always been particularly helpful in these efforts, as the media discourse tends to emphasize listening as a source of sublime emotional experiences – an idea which is quite at odds with the notion that listening can serve analytic insights and should be accepted as an objective scientific method. The project has explored these tensions between the public fascination with and the academic legitimacy of sonification, and how the sonification community engages in a balancing act between different strategies of establishing the scientific legitimacy for their research.

Empirically, much of the project revolved around the International Community for Auditory Display as the institutional embodiment of sonification; however, an effort was made to also investigate sonification projects that exist outside of that institutional context. The project involved an analysis of primary literature and documents on sonification, the conduction of qualitative interviews with sonification practitioners, as well as ethnographic research in various sonification-relatex contexts, ranging from musical performances to academic conferences.

Listen to a few examples of sonification, such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan, courtesy of Sonifyer:


…or  the decay of a Higgs boson particle, courtesy of LHCsound:



Related publications:

Alexandra Supper (2012), Lobbying for the Ear: The Public Fascination with and Academic Legitimacy of the Sonification of Scientific Data. PhD Thesis, Maastricht University, Maastricht.

Alexandra Supper (2012), “The Search for the ‘Killer Application’: Drawing the Boundaries around the Sonification of Scientific Data”, in: Trevor Pinch & Karin Bijsterveld (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 249-270.

Alexandra Supper (2012), “Wie objektiv sind Sonifikationen? Das Ringen um wissenschaftliche Legitimität im gegenwärtigen Diskurs der ICAD”, in: Andi Schoon & Axel Volmar, Das geschulte Ohr: Zur Kulturgeschichte der Sonifikation, Bielefeld: transcript, pp. 29-45

Alexandra Supper (2012), “‘Trained Ears’ and ‘Correlation Coefficients’: A Social Science Perspective on Sonification“, in M.A. Nees, B.W. Walker & J. Freeman (eds.), Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Auditory Display, Atlanta, USA, pp.29-35.

Alexandra Supper (2014), “Sublime Frequencies: The Construction of Sublime Listening Experiences in the Sonification of Scientific Data“, in Social Studies of Science, vol. 44:1, 34-58.

Alexandra Supper (2015), “Data Karaoke: Sensory and Bodily Skills in Conference Presentations“, in Science as Culture .vol. 24:4, pp.436-457.

Alexandra Supper (2015), “Sound Information: Sonification in the Age of Complex Data and Digital Audio“, in Information & Culture: A Journal of History, vol. 50:4, pp. 441-464.



Accompanying podcast for an article in the journal Social Studies of Science, for which Alexandra Supper was interviewed by Sergio Sismondo. (With thanks to the projects LHCSound, Sonification of Brain Activity, and Stellar Music for permission to include sound examples.)

Alexandra Supper (interviewed by Paul Devens) as part of the sound art project Radio Wavings, broadcast on local radio stations L1 and Maastricht FM on May 4th, 2014. The interview can be listened to online, starting at 58:30, here. (With thanks to the projects LHCSound, Sonification of Brain Activity, and Stellar Music for the featured sound examples.)