ChatGPT generated critique of sonification

After decades of study in this area of research, I agree … ChatGPT 4, you got that about right and stated it well, in 6 seconds or so from the newly opened chat feature in Bing … yikes

ChatGPT said:

Sonification is a sound design technique that involves mapping data or information to sound parameters, such as pitch, volume, timbre or rhythm. Sonification can be used to create interaction sounds that encode relevant data, so that the user can perceive or interpret the conveyed information1. Sonification can also be used to create musical compositions based on scientific data, such as DNA sequences or molecular vibrations2.

However, sonification as a sound design practice has several failures and limitations. Some of them are:

  • – Lack of standards and guidelines: There is no widely accepted framework or methodology for sonification design, which makes it difficult to evaluate, compare and reproduce sonification projects1. Different sonification designers may use different mappings, scales and sound qualities for the same data, leading to inconsistent and confusing results.
  • – Lack of perceptual and cognitive validity: Sonification design often relies on intuition or aesthetic preferences, rather than empirical evidence or user feedback. This can result in sonification sounds that are not perceptually salient, meaningful or intuitive for the listeners. Moreover, sonification sounds may overload or distract the listeners’ attention, especially when they are presented in complex or noisy environments1.
  • – Lack of artistic and emotional expression: Sonification design often focuses on conveying data accurately and objectively, rather than creatively and subjectively. This can result in sonification sounds that are dull, boring or monotonous for the listeners. Moreover, sonification sounds may fail to elicit emotional responses or aesthetic appreciation from the listeners, especially when they are disconnected from the context or source of the data2.
  • – Lack of accessibility and inclusivity: Sonification design often assumes that the listeners have normal hearing abilities and musical backgrounds, which may not be the case for many potential users. This can result in sonification sounds that are inaccessible or inappropriate for people with hearing impairments, different cultural backgrounds or musical preferences. Moreover, sonification sounds may exclude or marginalize people who prefer other modalities of data representation, such as visualization or haptics1.
  • In summary, sonification as a sound design practice has failed to establish a clear and consistent framework, to validate its perceptual and cognitive effects, to express its artistic and emotional potential, and to address its accessibility and inclusivity issues. These failures limit the usefulness and appeal of sonification for both scientific and artistic purposes.

My reactions

For the past while I have been thinking about the lack of fundamental success in the general sub field of design that is referred to as “sonification”. Washers, dryers, refrigerators etc. that make auditory cues, crosswalk aids for the visually impaired, geiger counters, hitting your remote keys to find your car in a parking garage and a few others are about it. All this other stuff, including my own decades of work is really art pieces that are really a way of communicating a story about some art/science boundary, in my opinion. Actual functional data to sound as opposed to data to visual is still in the works. After all my interviews with practitioners, it was my conversation with the late, great sonification practitioner Mark Bollora had what I considered the greatest insight.

Scientists are more and more leaning on the Arts to put their word out. The division of the artsy people and the sciency people is breaking down. Going back centuries to the age of the Natural Philosopher. I am interested in working in the educational domain … We can’t expect our generation to think of data sonification as a natural thing, but the next generations, that have had more exposure to sonic representations of data, might begin to more integrate into there workflow and information communication techniques

From the interview with Mark Bollora at ~23 minutes in

This will take decades of work and many new techniques of story telling before the practice of sonification transcends just art making and becomes the practical utility that it promises.