Thomas Dolby did not disappoint this morning. In addition to sharing an entertaining revue of his career, comprised mostly of video clips (and btw a career in which he apparently fulfilled his dream: "Whereas ... geeks dream of being a pop star, I was a pop star dreaming of being a geek"), Dolby provided an impressive demo of sonification, the presentation of data using (non-speech) sound.
Sonification has been used in medical and academic areas for years, but perhaps not quite in the same manner as Dolby, who in one case took data relating to the wave height of the Dec. 2004 tsunami and mapped it to sonic events. "I found that I could tune that wave height to a parameter in my synthesizer," Dolby explained. The underlying premise: Sometimes by applying music or sound to data, you can see a greater depth, or better understand events. (The same thing might be said of visual representation of data, such as featured in the "History Flow Visualization Application" tool shown by alphaWorks at the rationalconf2005 Solutions Center and on the aW Web site.)
Not surprisingly, the mood in the auditorium was rather somber after the tsunami portion of the demo. The close of the session, however, was quite the opposite, as Dolby sang "Hyperactive!" accompanied by the acapella group Toxic Audio. Thanks to Roger Oberg and the others at IBM who arranged this sonic treat.
Now I'm heading to the big "Beach Party" reception. I understand they have 33 lifeguards on hand to keep us from drowning in the Mandalay Bay pools. Should be interesting! If I survive, I'll share more tomorrow.
--Michael at rationalconf2005