Wednesday, April 12, 2006

World Music Extreme

As part of the International Conference on Auditory Display, the Institute of Contemporary Arts London is hosting a concert called "Global Music - The World by Ear." Like a previous concert I wrote about, composers are asked to use an existing set of data on "190 countries with geographical data (capital location, area), population numbers, and is extended by several basic social indicators such as GDP, access to sanitation and drinking water, and life expectancy"
to generate sonifications. I think it is excellent that they call these works "sonifications" rather than compositions, even though there is clearly artistic creativity involved. The focus is on how to create an aural impression of the data, much in the same way a graph creates a visual impression. Musical considerations are secondary, so sonification = graph as composition = painting.

The deadline for submissions has been extended to the end of the month, so get cracking! Details follow.
The 'Global Music - The World by Ear' Concert will take place on June 21st, 2006, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts London, as part of the International Conference on Auditory Display in London from 20-23 June 2006. It is open to the general public and will be promoted and listed by the ICA.

The concert program will be sonifications based on global data. A basic dataset serving as a starting point for these sonifications is provided and you are invited to participate by submitting a piece of music driven by this data and your chosen additions to it.

Werner Pirchner, Ein halbes Doppelalbum, 1973: "The military costs every person still alive roughly as much as half a kilogram of bread per day."

Global data are ubiquitous - one finds them in every newspaper, and they cover a range of themes, from global warming to increasing poverty, from individual purchasing power to the ageing of the world's population. Obviously these data are of a social nature: They describe specific aspects (e.g. ecological or economic) of the environment in which societies exist, which taken together determine culture, i.e. the way people live.

Rising awareness of these global interdependencies has led both to fear and concerns (e.g. captured in the notion of the risk society, see Beck 1986, Giddens 1990, 1999), as well as hopes for eventual positive consequences of globalisation. Along with developments like the scientisation of politics (see Drori et al 2003), this growing understanding of global issues has re-defined the context of the political discourse in modern societies: As modern societies claim to steer their own course based on self-observation by means of data, an information feedback loop is realised.

Alternative choices of data that are important to consider, which data should be set in relation to each other, and a consideration of how to perceptualise these data choices meaningfully can enrich this discourse.

Closing the feedback loop by informing society about its current state and its development is a task that both scientists and artists have responded to, and this is the key point of this call:

* You can contribute to the discourse by perceptualising aspects of world societal developments,
* search for data that concern interesting questions, and devise strategies for investigating them, and
* demonstrate that sound can communicate information in an accessible way for the general public.

As a common reference point, we have compiled a basic dataset which includes 190 countries with geographical data (capital location, area), population numbers, and is extended by several basic social indicators such as GDP, access to sanitation and drinking water, and life expectancy.

Using this reference dataset is mandatory: All submissions must include countries, capital locations, population and area data. This dataset can be extended with extra dimensions, and in fact this is strongly encouraged; the extensions included in the reference dataset (such as GDP) are given as examples only.

Examples of a larger number of interesting extensions can be found in the extended version of the basic dataset (see links in section Data Background and Resources below).

Easily accessible sources for possible extensions to the dataset are also given in the Resources section; if you need advice on these, please feel free to ask us: icad.concert AT

Submissions should last between 3-10 minutes.

Likely Questions
Missing values for some countries and some dimensions are to be expected, and this is a common problem in social data. Pragmatic handling of some sort will be necessary here.

The countries/regions represented have very different sizes and population numbers; one result we hope for is that very different strategies for representing these frame dimensions will be applied in the submissions.

Our reference data set is a snapshot of the year 2005; participants may choose to introduce time and to explore development issues.

If you are unsure whether your idea for a submission would comply with the rules, please feel free to ask us:

Data Background and Resources
The reference datasets have been compiled from official UN statistics and the CIA World Factbook (links below).

Data files have been updated! (see website for more details)


Beck, Ulrich (1986): Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne. Frankfurt am Main. English edition: 1992, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. New Delhi.

Drori, Gili S., John W. Meyer, Francisco O. Ramirez, Evan Schofer (2003): Science in the Modern World Polity: Institutionalization and Globalization. Stanford.

Giddens, Anthony (1990): The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford.

Giddens, Anthony (1999) : Runaway World. A series of lectures on globalisation for the BBC, available [here]

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