Which climate music sounds better?

Did you know that you can use climate data sets to create music?

Climate data sonification is the process of turning climate data sets into sound — in this case, music. I wrote a blog entry about this back in April of 2023 titled Turning Climate Data Into Music. Now that I’m delving into the world of audiobook production, I’ve decided that it’s also time to revive my interest in creating music using climate data sets.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, anyone with internet access can make instrumental music tracks based directly on climate data sets (or any other data sets). All you have to do is find, convert, or create a data file (.xls, xlsx, .csv, .ods) and upload it to a web-based tool called TwoTone that translates the data into music. You can choose among several computer-generated instruments, combine multiple tracks, use the arpeggio settings to give the data a more musical sound, preview the results in your browser, and export the results in .mp3 or .pcm format.

My Free Climate Music Samples

I’m getting ready to publish a lot of music based on climate data — and I want your feedback!

So far, my published climate music has been very simple. I used the HadCRUT5 data set (specifically the Anomaly column of this CSV file) to create two distinct songs: a piano melody where each tone represents a single data point, and a piano arpeggio where each data point is translated into an arpeggio of three tones.

Honestly, the first one isn’t that compelling from the perspective of the average listener or musician. It sounds like someone plunking random notes on a piano without rhyme or reason. I enjoy it simply for the fact that I can clearly hear the temperature rise as the song progresses.

The second one is much more compelling. The arpeggio makes all the difference. It’s still quite simple, but I find it enjoyable as an instrumental piece or possibly backing to spoken or sung vocal tracks.

What I’m exploring with my new project is slightly more complex. It involves using 2-3 instruments to play single tones or arpeggios based on this data set.

In some of the samples, I’ve used an additional column created by taking the negative value of the Anomaly column. This leads to a “negative” track where the tones go lower rather than higher as the temperature rises, thus providing some contrast and dramatic tension.

For two tracks, I also used TwoTone’s filter function to filter out any data points with a value above zero. This makes it so that the instrument (in this case a church organ) only enters the song when global warming crosses a certain threshold. The resulting track is a bit messy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I feel it conveys the irregular and sporadic nature of warming (and its consequences) while also still making it very clear that temperatures are rising.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

All of these samples are inspired to some extent by the first poem in my climate poetry collection, All The Climate Feels. This influenced my choice of instrument, key, “negative” tracks, and so on. When I’m making a track inspired by a different poem, I may make different choices.

Vote For Your Favorite Climate Music Sample

Since I have almost no formal music training, and very little experience creating my own music, I’d like your feedback on what I’ve come up with so far.

If you’d like to provide feedback, please listen to the above sample tracks and rank them from most to least favorite. If you can’t decide between two tracks for a favorite, feel free to flip a coin. If they’re all about the same to you, feel free to say so in the “Additional Feedback” section.

Your Climate Data Sonification

If creating music based on climate data sounds like a fun idea to you, why don’t you give it a try?

Whether you’re a professional musician, an amateur musician, or just someone who’s curious, the basic process is surprisingly simple. You can read more about it on my Turning Climate Data Into Music page. I’d love to see professional musicians use these tools to come up with songs that are far more musically sophisticated than anything I’ll ever come up with. I’d also like to see experimental music hobbyists, climate communicators, and anyone else who’s curious use these tools to come up with their own unique climate music.

Why would anyone want to turn climate data into music?

Number one, because it’s fun! I enjoy listening to and creating tracks based on climate data. I like listening for the rise in temperatures, feeling the dramatic tension created by different instruments and techniques in the song, and so on.

Number two, because it’s a creative form of climate communication.

If you do decide to play around with this, please let me know. I’d be happy to hear what you come up with. In the meantime, any feedback you have on what I’ve come up with so far would be greatly appreciated!

Leave a Comment