This Song Is Composed From 133 Years of Climate Change Data


By Heather Hansman | Smith Sonian | September 21, 2015

Four nervous-looking college students pick up their bows and start into a song at the bottom of their range. AS the string quartet plays, the music gets higher pitched. It dips and peaks, but you can still hear it building. By the end of the song, one of the violins is struggling to hit the high notes.

Daniel Crawford, a soon to be senior geography major at the University of Minnesota, composed the song, called “Planetary Bands, Warming World,” to trace the rise of Northern Hemisphere temperatures since the 1880’s. Four students from the music department–Julian Maddox, Jason She, Alastair Witherspoon and Nigel Witherspoon– performed the song.

Each instrument plays the temperature range of a zone of the Northern Hemisphere and is tuned to the average temperature of that region. The cello tracks the equatorial zone, and the viola plays the mid-latitudes. One violin plays the high latitudes, and the other traces Arctic temperatures. Each note then corresponds to a year, and the pitch of the note represents the temperature, according to climate data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Science. Higher notes are warmer years. You can hear the Earth get warmer through the music.

 “We’re trying to add another tool to the toolbox,” Crawford says, “another way to communicate these ideas to the people who might get more out of this than maps, graphs or numbers.”

I chose this piece because it was cool to see the climate data shown in an unthought of way. All pieces so far have been visual so I was looking to add some variety. Sound is an interesting way to understand data.


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