Data sonification process transforms climate data into a haunting ‘climate symphony’

By Kirstie Wielandt

Like any detailed scientific data, climate data can be tricky to decipher for the layperson. UK film collective Disobedient Film is seeking to change this through an audio-visual installation called CLIMATE SYMPHONY, featured recently at the Global Health Film Festival at the Barbican arts centre in London.

The Disobedient Film team are working alongside meteorologists, conservationists, data scientists and investigative journalists to produce an installation that explores 50 years of harm to the planet in ‘sonified’ data. Data ‘sonification’ is described by the Oxford Dictionaries as ‘the use of non-speech sound to convey quantifiable information or represent data, typically as the output from an electronic device; into sound.’

As you observe the CLIMATE SYMPHONY installation, every four seconds represents a year in time as archive images of flooding, heatwaves and infectious diseases are combined with the audio waveforms of sonified data to produce a gripping audio-visual experience.

Data sources for the most recent installation include readings and data from NASA and World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Starting at 1966, the WMO’s carbon dioxide parts-per-million measurements rise steadily as digital noise, joined by deep orchestral harmonies derived from NASA statistics on sea surface water temperature. By 1977, the sounds of Amazon deforestation data, pitch-shifted to match the percentage of decrease of rainforest over time. The sounds are ethereal and haunting in equal measure, not in the least because the listener is aware of what they represent.

In the team’s own words ‘this piece aims to act as a lighthouse to the bleaker reaches of climate reporting…CLIMATE SYMPHONY is a response to conventional forms of data representation, journalism, interrogation, which often fail to engage audiences with stories and meanings behind the data. We have chosen sound and music because sound affects us physiologically and emotionally, creating a new form of engaging with facts that many find it to easy to ignore.’

CLIMATE SYMPHONY is an ongoing project and the directors and composer are currently working on a live performance for 2018 and welcome questions and suggestions for collaboration via

The Global Health Film Festival brings together health professionals, opinion leaders and filmmakers from all over the world to learn about current global health priorities and to explore the power of film and animation to tell difficult and complex stories and act as a catalyst to effect change for social good.

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