Big Data, Loud Information: the sonification of scientific data and the discourse on ‘big data’
This talk provides a sociological/historical perspective on the practice of sonification, the auditory display of (scientific) data. In recent years, sonification has received increasing media attention. It has also been presented as a solution to the challenges posed by ‘big data’, as it offers a new form of making large and complex datasets accessible to the human senses, compared to the usually visual standard forms of data analysis and presentation.
In my talk, I want to analyse the development of a research community dedicated to sonification, paying attention in particular to the interplay between science and music and the role played by digital technologies in that relationship. As I will show, specific historical configurations have led the community to concentrate on technical solutions for the design of sonification technology rather than on analysing and interpreting sonified data. Consequently, sonification still struggles for scientific acceptance and does not offer any ready-made solutions to the problems posed by big data; indeed, it echoes, rather than solves, these problems.
Alexandra Supper is assistant professor in the Department of Technology & Society Studies and academic coordinator of the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences, both at Maastricht University. Previously, she was visiting professor of ‘Science-Technology-Society’ at the University of Vienna. She holds a PhD in science and technology studies from Maastricht University, and an MA in sociology from the University of Vienna. Her research has been published, among others, in the journal Social Studies of Science and in the Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies.