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Personal Science Week - 23 Feb 2023
Sounds and sonification
Each Thursday we summarize a few ideas we think will be useful for anyone who would like to be a Personal Scientist — use science for personal rather than professional reasons.
This week we discuss sound and how to work with it.
Personal Science Week is delivered each Thursday to anyone curious about applying science to everyday life.
Sound, despite being the last sense to turn off before death, gets less attention than it deserves. We discussed several hearing tests in Personal Science Week - 3 Nov 2022, including a short one that can guess your age. Is there more we can do with sound?
Sounds and Senses
When you look at this simple picture, do you hear anything? As many as 20% of people tested claim they “hear” a thumping sound, despite no audio present, a condition known as Visually evoked auditory response (aka “vEAR”)
The details of how or why this works in some people is an active area of study. if you (or somebody you know) can “hear” sounds in images like this one, you may want to study more about synesthesia, a phenomenon where one of the senses is experienced through another.
As a Personal Scientist, you may be interested in techniques to turn self-collected data into auditory form, the so-called field of Sonification and Auditory Display. A good place to start is The Sonification Handbook, edited by Thomas Hermann, Andy Hunt, and John G. Neuhoff. This 500-page textbook, available for free download will give you all the gory details.
There are many ways to generate sound files from your data, but probably the easiest is with a web app like this one from Sonify.
Using a day’s worth of my heart rate data collected from Apple Watch, I was easily able to generate this 5 second time-compressed snippet.
This represents about 30 minutes worth of heart beats as I transition into sleep, which you can hear clearly about halfway through the clip.
If you’d prefer to use some of your programming skills, read my how-to post describing how I made this sample of a year’s worth of my daily microbiome test results, compressed into 30 seconds:
More Personal Science Sounds to Explore
Millions of people claim to feel a pleasurable sensation sometimes described as “head tingles” when they listen to specific sounds. The phenomenon, called ASMR (“autonomous sensory meridian response”), has its own large Reddit community that develops and rates Youtube and Spotify playlists of sounds that some people find especially relaxing. Almost 2M people subscribe to the CoromoSaraASRM Youtube channel with its hundreds of half-hour clips of nothing but tapping, scratching, or other simple sounds.
The artist Yoko Sen of Sen Sound is on a mission to improve the quality of sounds at hospitals that care for end-of-life patients. Those beeps given off by medical equipment are intended to make us pay attention, which is another way of saying “annoying”. Combine two of those annoying sounds — a cardiac monitor and a bed alarm — and you get a “diminished fifth”, also known as the “Devil’s chord”, among the most disturbing sounds imaginable.
About Personal Science
Personal Science uses science for personal reasons (understand something for yourself) rather than professional ones (it’s your job). Because so many personal issues tend to be health-related, many Personal Science endeavors tend to focus on optimization related to the human body.
But just as medical science is only one aspect of science, we can use the principles of science for much more than the study of personal health. Personal Scientists can ask questions about the world in general, in both what we call “physical” sciences like astronomy or physics and “social” sciences like linguistics or politics.
Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a comment if you have other ideas you’d like to discuss.