Auditory Data Analysis

Auditory Data Analysis. Knowledge Making, the Senses, and the Formation of Scientific Sonification, 1980-2000

Axel Volmar

This project aims to critically reflect and historicize data practices in relation to sensory practices within the history of science. While the fabrication of scientific knowledge is commonly associated with the sense of vision and visual forms of representation, this project takes a different route by examining the history of scientific listening as an epistemic practice in 20th-century science. Blending historical epistemology with scholarship in the field of sound studies, the project raises questions about why and how the ear was used to construct new knowledge from observations and scientific data by means of auditory display. Taking the history and pre-history of “data sonification” as its main focal point, the project expands previous research on the auditory culture of science and aims to enhance our understanding of the roles of the human senses in making sense of abstract data structures. Different case studies from the natural and the life sciences point to a major shift within the practice of scientific listening in the 20th century—a shift best characterized as a turn away from listening to physical events, such as heart and lung sounds in medicine or the clicks of a Geiger counter in nuclear physics, to the analysis of virtual—or sonified—sound events derived from digital data structures.