Listen to Wikipedia: A Web Site That Turns Every Wikipedia Edit Into Ambient Music in Real Time

Wikipedia turned 20 years old this past Jan­u­ary. Do you remem­ber how you first heard of it? Or more to the point, do you remem­ber when you actu­al­ly start­ed click­ing on it when it came up in your search results? For me, Wikipedia first proved an essen­tial resource for learn­ing about music: on it I looked up my favorite bands, then found my way to entries about all the peo­ple, events, places, and things asso­ci­at­ed with them. (I then tru­ly felt what it meant to go down an inter­net “rab­bit hole.”) Hav­ing been intrigued by, for instance, the music of Bri­an Eno, I dis­cov­ered through Wikipedia the world of ambi­ent music, of which Eno’s work con­sti­tutes only one part.

Two decades on, Wikipedia itself has become ambi­ent music. Lis­ten to Wikipedia, writes co-cre­ator Mah­moud Hashe­mi, “is a real-time aural­iza­tion of Wikipedia grow­ing, one edit at a time. The site is lit­er­al­ly self-explana­to­ry.” Even so, at that linked blog post Hashe­mi and his fel­low devel­op­er Stephen LaPorte explain that “Bells are addi­tions, strings are sub­trac­tions.”

Small­er edits sound high­er ones, and larg­er edits low­er ones. “There’s some­thing reas­sur­ing about know­ing that every user makes a noise, every edit has a voice in the roar. (Green cir­cles are anony­mous edits and pur­ple cir­cles are bots. White cir­cles are brought to you by Reg­is­tered Users Like You.)”

It all sounds a bit like — and looks even more like — Eno’s “gen­er­a­tive music” apps. But Lis­ten to Wikipedia adds a con­sid­er­able ver­bal and intel­lec­tu­al dimen­sion, label­ing each edit that bub­bles up with the name of the rel­e­vant page. Kawaii met­al. Year of the Fifth Coali­tion. Tom Brady. Lee Coun­ty, Texas. Do You Like Hitch­cock? Justin Bieber discog­ra­phy. Geog­ra­phy of Gael­ic games. Cal­i­for­nia Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. Bas­ket­ball at the 1988 Sum­mer Olympics – Men’s tour­na­ment. All these names arose and van­ished with­in about a min­ute’s view­ing, as did many oth­ers of more deeply tan­ta­liz­ing obscu­ri­ty. If you feel tempt­ed to look them all up on Wikipedia itself, count your­self among those of us who’ve known, for twen­ty years now, where the inter­net’s real poten­tial for addi­tion lies. Explore Lis­ten to Wikipedia here.

h/t @pbkauf

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bri­an Eno Explains the Ori­gins of Ambi­ent Music

Behold the MusicMap: The Ulti­mate Inter­ac­tive Geneal­o­gy of Music Cre­at­ed Between 1870 and 2016

The His­to­ry of Elec­tron­ic Music Visu­al­ized on a Cir­cuit Dia­gram of a 1950s Theremin: 200 Inven­tors, Com­posers & Musi­cians

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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