Sublime frequencies: The construction of sublime listening experiences in the sonification of scientific data
Department of Technology and Society Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University,
Maastricht, The Netherlands
note: The photo above was one of the more interesting images I came across when I googled the author’s name.
In the past two decades, the sonification of scientific data – an auditory equivalent of data visualization in which data are turned into sounds – has become increasingly widespread, particularly as an artistic practice and as a means of popularizing science. Sonification is thus part of the recent trend, discussed in public understanding of science literature, towards increased emphasis on ‘interactivity’ and ‘crossovers’ between science and art as a response to the perceived crisis in the relationship between the sciences and their publics. However, sonification can also be understood as the latest iteration in a long tradition of theorizing the relations between nature, science and human experience. This article analyses the recent public fascination with sonification and argues that sonification grips public imaginations through the promise of sublime experiences. I show how the ‘auditory sublime’ is constructed through varying combinations of technological, musical and rhetorical strategies. Rather than maintain a singular conception of the auditory sublime, practitioners draw on many scientific and artistic repertoires. However, sound is often situated as an immersive and emotional medium in contrast to the supposedly more detached sense of vision. The public sonification discourse leaves intact this dichotomy, reinforcing the idea that sound has no place in specialist science.