MusikTexte have just published my short statement on mapping in their latest issue. It is part of a group of texts requested by Jennifer Walshe that deal with physical, theatrical and visual elements in recent music. My text is a response to some recent work which maps data to pitch and duration (mostly), or visual images to sound (often via stave notation….) in an arbitrary way. Although sonification is a useful tool in the scientific domain – and I’m thinking of some recent work by Meg Schedel in this regard – it is so often presented in a confused way. Granted this can be due to media misrepresentation of such processes as allowing us to hear the sound of cosmic radiation or similar phenomena, but in many cases it’s due to composers wilfully promoting this representation. I’m not going to point any fingers but googling ‘sonification’ quickly exposes some clear examples of this and how ridiculous it can get.
Sonification is a useful tool. It helps scientists in some contexts gain a different perspective on patterns in their data. But when this is presented as music there’s a tendency for the context to justify the music. It’s not the sound of climate change, it’s a set of arbitrary choices someone has made to map coarse data sets to sound with a whole lot of preconceptions about what the result will sound like. I just want some honesty in this work. If you’re saying ‘I made a piece and used this to generate some material’ then fine, just about, but don’t say this is the sound of the data. Ever. Sure, it can show relationships and patterns and might well produce interesting music, but that’s where to stop. Don’t make some spurious connection to act as a crutch for the work.
I need to stop now as I’m getting cross. You can read the English version of the text here. Grrrr.