Tag Archives: Living on Earth

Amusing Monday: Science is music when data becomes sound

Nearly everyone who deals in scientific information learns to read simple charts and graphs to help visualize the data. As a reporter, I’m often looking for the right graph to bring greater meaning to a story. In a similar way, some people have been experimenting with rendering data into sound, and some of the more musically inclined folks have been creating songs with notes and musical scales.

As with graphs, one must understand the conceptual framework before the meaning becomes clear. On the other hand, anyone can simply enjoy the music — or at least be amused that the notes themselves are somehow transformed from observations of the real world.

The first video on this page, titled “Bloom,” contains a “song” derived from microorganisms found in the English Channel. The melody depicts the relative abundance of eight different types of organisms found in the water as conditions change over time. Peter Larsen, a biologist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, explains how he created the composition to Steve Curwood, host of the radio program “Living on Earth.”

      1. Living on Earth

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Amusing Monday: Water music from a garden

I was thinking today that I wanted to find some kind of unusual water-related music, since I haven’t featured music in Amusing Monday for quite sometime.

As coincidence would have it, the program “Living on Earth” this week featured a recording of a Japanese instrument called suikinkutsu. The recording was made by anthropologist and ethnomusicologist Steven Feld.

      1. Click here for the sound file.
Or review this week’s entire “Living on Earth” radio show.

I was fortunate to find a video on YouTube that not only describes how the sound is made but also shows how the instrument is created in a Japanese garden. It turns out that just about anyone can get this unusual sound with a ceramic jar placed in a water basin, but I can’t help but prefer the elaborate effort it takes to create the sound of water in a garden setting.

From the liner notes of Feld’s album “Suikinkutsu” comes this description of the instrument:

“Suikinkutsu literally “water-zither-cave,” is a unique instrument associated with washing for the Japanese tea ceremony. Water drips from a chozubachi stone basin into a partly-filled underground ceramic bowl. The dripping sound, resembling a kotozither, projects up through bamboo tubes into a garden, where water may symbolize spirit, purification, solace, and reflection.

“Dating to the mid 17th century Edo period, the name suikinkutsuis often
credited to the famous tea ceremony teacher Kobori Enshu. After a decline, the instrument re-emerged in the Meiji Era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with renewed recent popularity.”