Sonification –
Fictional Landscape

The project is a small prototype exploring the sonification* of elevation data. It was created within a course on the use of audio within interaction design at my university.
I wanted to keep the sonification set up as simple as possible hence I designed the higher elevation to coincide with a higher note.

The assignment was the conceptional design for an information system on a topic free of choice. I was reading about the aral sea a while ago and it came into my mind that it would be great to raise awareness on what happend with it relating to the process of drying out and the contamination of the environment since the year of 1960 until now, due to the economic use of the water from the only two rivers that provided the lake. The information system we were aiming for should work in the context of a museum or exhibition and communicate its information with a playful component. That is why we decided to combine a hardware and software interface for our prototype.

*from The Sonification Handbook by Thomas Hermann:
"Sonification conveys information by using non-speech sounds. To listen to data as sound and noise can be a surprising new experience with diverse applications ranging from novel interfaces for visually impaired people to data analysis problems in many scientific fields."


The topographic model used for the sonification is a fictional landscape. The layers were created with laser cut poplar plywood and painted with conductive ink to enable touch sensitivity. Hook-up wires are located beneath each layer, connecting the surfaces of conductive ink with an arduino leonardo board and an additional adafruit mpr121 touch sensor. Every touch generates an audible note in real-time via a web browser that utilizes the tone.js, an amazing library for programming your own synthesizers.

As previously mentioned, the sonification set up was very simple e.g. touching the base layer, produces a C note, whilst the layer above produces a D and so on. It is possible to play a one-octave scale on the model: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C 
Playing music through the prototype was a more artistic and fun approach to exploring what was a “proof of concept“.