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Sounding Tides (2022)


Sounding Tides is a sonification and visualization of 50 years of data from the Brisbane tides. Created by composer Erik Griswold, climate social scientist Rebecca Cunningham, and creative coder Steve Berrick for Curiocity Brisbane 2022, the work takes the form of a kinetic sound installation and an interactive smartphone app.


The installation is comprised of five kinetic sound sculptures, each containing a base, speaker, tactile transducer, and large metal bowl full of water. Tidal records from the port of Brisbane are read into bespoke software and rendered as layers in a constantly changing musical composition. We hear sound waves, white noise, and piano arpeggios pulsing in and out through the speakers and at the same time we see the vibrations as ripple patterns in the water.


Using the smartpone app, participants can create their own audio mix of the musical composition and change elements in the  visual design to hear and view the tidal patterns in new ways.  The app also gives users the opportunity to navigate through 50 years of data and adjust the speed of the sonification, making it truly interactive.

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Sounding Tides FAQ

What is it?

Sounding Tides is a kinetic sound sculpture that uses historical data (the rising and falling of the tides) to produce hypnotic music and cymatic patterns in water.

What Is Data Sonification?

Most representations of data are visual (think line graphs, pie charts, or bar charts). They allow us to see trends and patterns that aren’t obvious just from looking at a list of numbers. Instead of visual means, Data Sonification uses audio to represent the data. It takes the ‘0s’ and ‘1s’ and translates them into sound and music. Data Sonification is used by organisations like NASA as a new way of experiencing data.

In Sounding Tides, the record of tide heights from Brisbane river is represented sound waves, noise, and piano samples. In addition, you can also see the data being represented as vibrations in bowls of water.

Where does the Data come from?

Sounding Tides uses tidal records that span the period 1970 to 2018 measuging the rising and falling tides at the mouth of the Brisbane River.

We have used the TPXO Global Tidal Model[1] that contains tidal data from 1970 – 2018. It measures the height of tides along the coastline of every country in the world. We have sampled historical data for Brisbane from the lat lon of -27.346157, 153.201023 which is the closest lat lon in the model to the Curiosity festival site. That is the mouth of the river you are looking at.

What am I listening to?

You are listening to a composition by Erik Griswold.
It consists of three layers 1) a swelling chord produced by sine wave generators 2) whooshing noise sounds and 3) a recording of gently flickering piano music. The tidal data controls the three layers in different ways: by changing their volume, by filtering the highs and lows, and by adding and subtracting harmonics.


The tides are played in a highly accelerated form, so we can get a sense of a larger scale of time. Each pulse represents one high tide, or 12.5 hours. 1 months of data = 5 mins of music; 1 year of data = 1 hour of music. 10 hours of data - one decade.  Every month of data there is a shift in the music, to signal the passing of time.


What is happening in the bowls?

The tidal data is being fed into low oscillators, which are transmitted through transducers into the bowls. The low frequency vibrations produce ripples patterns in the water. This is sometimes known as “cymatics.” 


What is the difference between the five sculptures?

The different heights of the sculptures represent rising global mean sea level.

Each bowl sonifies a different decade of data. From right to left you hear and see the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s.  So you can see and hear in realtime how the different decades compare.


Can we hear the climate changing?

Climate change creates impacts like extreme weather, more intense cyclones and ocean and river inundation. Climate change influences tides in different ways; as the sea level rises, even when it doesn’t rain, kings can make local flooding in coastal areas. Cyclones, tsunamis and extreme weather events also cause higher tides. In our sonification, higher tides are louder and have higher tonal spectra. In other words, the higher the tide, the louder, brighter and richer the tone.

How does it work?

A computer feeds the tidal data through a series of synthesisers and samplers. These sounds are sent to a transducer and a speaker in each sculpture. The transducer creates the low vibrations and the speaker plays the musical composition.


What about the app?

The app has the same data that is in sculpture with the same three sound layers. However you can control the mixture of sounds, and also change the speed. It lets you sound your own tides!

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Curiocity Brisbane Blurb

Composer and experimental musician Erik Griswold joins forces with climate change social scientist Rebecca Cunningham to create a kinetic sound sculpture that asks whether we can hear the climate changing.

Tides are some of the most constant phenomena in nature. The ebb and flow, the repetitive undulating rhythms, the constant tensions. Anthropogenic climate change rises tides around the world. Sounding Tides is an interactive musical composition and a sonification of scientific data that translates 40 years of data into sound and allows us to listen to these changes.

We hear the tides represented as slowly pulsing chords, shifting noise spectra, and dancing musical arpeggios, and we see the sound waves rippling and bubbling in water held within five large bowls.

The musician/scientist duo are interested in the ways ideas transform and new insights can be discovered when exploring data in a tactile and multi-sensory fashion. By sonifying the repeating cycles of the tides, hypnotic and meditative musical textures have been created using sine waves and white noise generators, accompanied by sampled piano. An interactive app enables participants to explore and mix the sonified data in their own way.

The Team

Erik Griswold - composer, programmer, designer, project manager

Rebecca Cunningham - climate scientist, project designer

Steve Berrick - creative coder, app development

James Clark - Audio consultant, equipment & installation

Bruce Wolfe - Physical sculpture design & fabrication

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