On Breathing and Geography: Sonifying the Severn as Shared Generative Art Practice


Session Title:

  • Sonifying Data, Visualizing Sound

Presentation Title:

  • On Breathing and Geography: Sonifying the Severn as Shared Generative Art Practice




  • Dr Michaela Palmer and Dr Owain Jones are Tidal Severn, an interdisciplinary research team that provides information, teaching materials and presentations in order to raise public awareness about the Severn Estuary, a large and important intertidal landscape in Southwest England.

    The Severn Estuary deserves great attention: with a huge tidal range and three million people living around its shores, tidal processes and people are intrinsically and uniquely interlinked. While the Severn Estuary only concerns the livelihoods of some families directly, the passage over or under the estuary, tourism and recreational activities indirectly affect a much wider, and not necessarily local, population group.

    This is the target audience for Sonic Severn, a small but growing online collection of soundscapes, sonifications and compositions about the Severn Estuary, curated by Tidal Severn.

    Sonic Severn is an open invitation to local composers, sound designers and sound artists to sonify some of the phenomena of the Severn Estuary. Many of the Sonic Severn artefacts have combined information technologies with audio technologies in order to communicate some of the tidal phenomena in the form of sound, and by this means to share what is in living memory and to open listeners’ minds to the fragile relationships between human experiences and local landscape.

    Sonification of data is a key technique hereby. Although strongly linked to scientific data acquisition, it was here often applied as an artistic method: data ‘farmed’ from the Severn Estuary was used to further generative sound practice. In order to make the generative forces that affect an intertidal landscape clearly perceptible to listeners, the question of how data is mapped onto sound is often crucial.

    This paper explores the necessary compromises between quantifying and qualifying data that can aid listeners’ interpretation of sounds. Based on this it discusses different kinds of ‘accuracies’ that may be applied in the creation of sonic representations. These accuracies are often connected with listeners’ perceptions of where they are located within this landscape. It is argued that skillful use of sonification and mapping techniques can deepen and intensify listeners’ experiences of a local landscape.

PDF Document:

Related Links: