A Song of Our Warming Planet: Cellist Turns 130 Years of Climate Change Data into Music

If you use data graphics and technical illustrations to explain climate change to most Americans, their eyes will glaze over. So University of Minnesota undergrad Daniel Crawford is trying a different approach. He’s using music to communicate the latest in climate science. Drawing on a method called “data sonification” that converts global temperature records into a series of musical notes, Crawford and his trusty cello have created “A Song of Our Warming Planet.” Here’s some of the technical backstory you need to know:

Crawford based his composition on surface temperature data from NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. The temperature data were mapped over a range of three octaves, with the coldest year on record (–0.47 °C in 1909) set to the lowest note on the cello (open C). Each ascending halftone is equal to roughly 0.03°C of planetary warming.

In Crawford’s composition, each note represents a year, ordered from 1880 to 2012. The pitch reflects the average temperature of the planet relative to the 1951–80 base line. Low notes represent relatively cool years, while high notes signify relatively warm ones.

Crawford has released the score and sound files under a Creative Commons license.

Download the sheet music (PDF) | Download the audio file (MP3) | Play the audio file only | Code to embed the audio file

To delve deeper into what’s happening to our climate, we suggest you spend time with Global Warming: a free course from the University of Chicago.

via i09

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  1. Louie says . . . | July 3, 2013 / 10:27 am

    Interesting, but it’s really just an auditive “graphic”: data transferred to a scale, which in this case happens to be musical. I think the point of making it into music is to interpret the data artistically, to perform it somehow. It might as well have been sequenced on MIDI, you don’t get anything out of it beyond the data. He could have added some rhythm and phrasing or something. I’m not hating on the guy, it just seems like this is the first part: translation into music. Next you have to say something else through it.

  2. Tom says . . . | July 3, 2013 / 12:06 pm

    @Louie: You have expressed very eloquently precisely what I was thinking as I listened. A worthy project and a very good first step.

  3. Kris says . . . | July 3, 2013 / 1:46 pm

    Hey, great idea, but the piece is too short. Why don’t you make the pice like 15 min long, use few hundred notes, and play them faster, starting with the real high notes you’ll have ;) Cheers!

  4. Marcel says . . . | July 4, 2013 / 6:32 am

    unbelievable silly…

  5. Paul says . . . | July 23, 2013 / 7:02 pm

    It sounds like the soundtrack to a German Expressionist film.

  6. Darin Stevenson says . . . | January 16, 2014 / 8:55 am

    I find it hilarious that people think Climate Change is the defining issue of our generation. That is absolutely absurd.

    The defining issue of our generation is that we are addicted to wiping out ecosystems and living beings and relationships in order to build toxic objects, technologies, minds, and false collectives.

    Climate change is the OUTCOME of that. Saying that the defining issue is climate change is like saying that, after breaking all the bones in our body by running full speed into a brick wall, over and over again, the defining issue is the marks on the wall.

    I am absolutely appalled at the abject stupidity of science and my generation. Our problem is object technologies and our addiction to absurd and catastrophically unsurvivable addictions to making cars and other mechanical technologies that compete directly against our own health, the history of life on Earth, and every cell and relationship in our bodies. Those technologies are winning, and we are using them to ‘talk about climate change’.

    This is like pumping gasoline into a fire and yelling about ‘the terrible problems with a specific component of the smoke.

    If this problem was in your own body or home, it would kill everything there long before you got your second complaint out.

    Our ‘theoretical’ collectives are dumber than a burnt shoe.

    If you think they can rescue you, you are out of your mind.

    We either STOP doing what we are doing with technology, RIGHT NOW, or we DIE. First by the millions, then the billions. In about 1 georelational minute.

    Wake up, humans, your habits are lethal. All of them.

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