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Sound designers translate air pollution into music

Researchers from the University of Birmingham used data from different times of day

  • Aneesa Ahmed
  • 14 April 2022
Sound designers translate air pollution into music

Scientists have made music based on air pollution data from urban and rural locations at different times of the day.

The project, named 'Sounding Out Pollution,' is made up of three parts. The first is based on pollution statistics from across the UK, contrasting rural and urban areas. They then turned this information into music using a range of instruments and genres.

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The second graph shows how air pollution in the West Midlands fluctuates hourly. The third shows how the quality of the air we breathe varies dramatically as you travel from Birmingham's rural outskirts to the city centre.

Speaking on the uniqueness of the project, Dr Catherine Muller, Project Manager for WM-Air, said: "We’re all aware that air pollution is harmful and that it affects all of us – but because it’s invisible it’s hard to maintain that awareness. Sounding Out Pollution offers people a fresh perspective on pollution – and maybe an incentive to occasionally walk or choose public transport rather than get into a car."

Sound artist Robert Jarvis has been working on this project - since the early 1990s, Jarvis has worked as a composer, performer, and guitarist, winning two British Composer Awards.

This isn't the first time Jarvis has used music to draw attention to crucial causes. His installation SONORA V19 is a sound interpretation of the number of active COVID-19 cases reported on a daily basis in 19 nations.

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Robert Jarvis said: “Sound is often a striking way to express data that is normally presented through one of the other senses. Perhaps from years of listening to music, people are pretty proficient at deciphering sonic information.

"As a result, by using audio in this way we can quickly form new understandings. My hope is that Sounding Out Pollution offers a useful way in learning about how our immediate environment is changed by the choices we make.”

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Prof William Bloss added to this and said: “Hearing how air pollution levels vary can help us to understand how the air we breathe changes with location and with a time of day.

"For example, some air pollutants are closely linked to road traffic – others less so. Sounding Out pollution helps people understand these differences, and so make decisions that may affect their air pollution exposure.”

The piece is part of the university’s The Air We Breathe exhibition. To find out more go to the University of Birmingham's website.


Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

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