Wind Chimes: autographic sonifications
I have many fascinations in life, and many in data. One is broadly representing data through the senses (surprise surprise) and the other is autographic data visualizations. I came across this concept from Dietmar Offenhuber (whose book on the subject I impatiently await). In a nutshell, autographic data visualizations are ‘naturally occurring’ data visualizations.
Take the following examples:
The rust on the penny visualizes its age. The pH strip reacts with the substance in the paper to change its color based on acidity.
The tracks that the fly leaves behind on the window reveal its path over time.
But what about autographic data sonifications? While sourcing a chime sample for Decible’s monthly sonification challenge, I came across the koshi chime. I was at first struck by the four different types:
Koshi chimes come in 4 different melodies, inspired by the four elements: Terra (G C E F G C E G), Aqua (A D F G A D F A / Pentatonic), Aria (A C E A B C E B) and Ignis (G B D G B D G A / Pentatonic). Each has its own magic timbre and can be played harmoniously with all the others.
To hear for yourself, make sure to check out the website.
Jordan and I often talk about ‘translating’ between the senses, and the creator does just this - with the four elements as a prompt, he came up with 4 musical representations of them…and harmonized them together. This alone to me qualified as a data representation – you could say that chimes are transiently recording wind data: the wind’s presence, direction, and speed. After posting in the Decibels community, it became clear that wind chimes are an example of autographical data sonification: chimes ring only when there is wind, and the more wind, the louder they ring. Wind chimes have been around for thousands of years, made from a variety of materials that bring their own unique musical properties to the table. From bone and bamboo shells to metal chimes, these instruments have served various purposes, including warding off evil spirits and signaling natural disasters.
But wind chimes are more than just instruments; they are a reflection of nature’s ever-changing and transient beauty, capturing the power of the wind and turning it into a symphony of sound. It’s no wonder scientists and researchers have taken an interest in their acoustic properties to better understand the relationship between sound and nature.
Wind chimes produce a range of harmonic and non-harmonic tones, with lower-frequency tones often associated with the sound of the wind and the natural environment. This connection between a lower frequency range and nature may be due to the fact that many natural sounds, like the rustling of leaves or the sound of water flowing in a stream, have a lower frequency range.
Additionally, lower-frequency sounds are often perceived as more calming and relaxing, affecting our emotional state and evoking the peaceful feelings nature can inspire. The low-frequency sounds of wind chimes may even be reminiscent of the sound of wind blowing through trees, further enhancing the natural and calming qualities of the sound.
Wind chimes produce a complex sound composed of many individual tones, with frequencies determined by the length, thickness, and material of each chime tube. Longer tubes produce lower frequency tones, while thicker and denser materials produce a more sustained sound. When the wind blows, the chimes vibrate, producing a sequence of harmonics and non-harmonic tones that create the chimes’ unique sound.
I never thought much about wind chimes before; I associated them with the Berkeley hippies I had grown up with. This rabbit hole revealed that wind chimes are fascinating and unique instruments with complex and varied acoustic properties. Their sound is influenced by a multitude of factors, including the materials, dimensions, and design of the chimes, as well as the strength and direction of the wind. So the next time you hear the soothing melody of wind chimes, take a moment to appreciate the beauty of nature’s music.
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