Sonification of the Tohoku earthquake: Music, popularization & the auditory sublime
Winters, R. Michael
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The past century has witnessed the emergence of expressive musical forms that originate in appropriated technologies and practices. In most cases, this appropriation is performed without protest— but not always. Carefully negotiating a space for sound as an objective, scientific medium, the field of sonification has cautiously guarded the term from subjective and affective endeavors. This paper explores the tensions arising in sonification popularization through a formal analysis of Sonification of the Tohoku Earthquake, a two-minute YouTube video that combined audification with a time-aligned seismograph, text and heatmap. Although the many views the video has received speak to a high public impact, the features contributing to this popularity have not been formalized, nor the extent to which these characteristics further sonifications’ scientific mission. For this purpose, a theory of popularization based upon “sublime listening experiences” is applied. The paper concludes by drawing attention to broader themes in the history of music and technology and presents guidelines for designing effective public-facing examples.