CT researcher turns weather data into music

UConn researchers partnered with Korean musicians to use data to turn rain, wind and tides into playable musical compositions, creating literal weather music.

The result is a fusion of science and art that resembles a modern classic, whose hope is to “foster a deeper connection with nature,” said Molly James.

James is a graduate research assistant and PhD candidate at UConn, studying “tidal hydrology and the hydrology of coastal salt marsh watercourses and flowing water”.

She is also an amateur musician who plays the trombone and tuba. During the pandemic lockdown, James met South Korean pianist Sophie Chung.

“She said, ‘Do you want to learn Korean? I want to practice my English a little more,'” James recalled. “So we just started a weekly video chat with language to get to know each other better.”

Chong is what James called a “co-pianist”, who James says is “more than just an accompanist or soloist. She seeks to create a larger musical picture with the people she plays with.” “

They discussed and Chung mentioned a grant opportunity worth $20,000 in South Korea, where researchers were encouraged to combine art and science. So they did just that.

Using publicly available weather data, Chung and James assigned each data point a note and derived a musical composition, which Chung played live on the piano.

The end result is literally weather music, rain, air and tide music. James said it has a more “modern” feel.

“The data has a daily cycle or daily pattern. One of the data types we used was temperature. “The idea was to get the maximum, the daily minimum, and the daily average. Then those three numbers were converted into chords,” says James.

Some of those chords “sounded harmoniously” while others were “dissonant.” There is no melody or theme that can be followed, but there is a rise and fall in intensity as the temperature data rises and falls.

Musical decisions regarding aspects such as octave and tempo were somewhat arbitrary, says James.

For works based on temperature data, they chose to represent the mean as the middle C.

“For example, if there is 1 degree Celsius, it is middle C, and all notes associated with 1 degree will have different relative notes than middle C on a piano,” said James. “So 2nd would be D, 0th would be B, and that was how the notes were assigned.”

Tempo was also an artistic and musical decision.

“One thing Sophie and I were particularly proud of was the precipitation because we kept the tempo relatively fast to mimic the patter of rain,” she said. “And it did. When it was raining it was these jumping notes, and when it wasn’t raining it was the bass line, so it sounded like an etude in modern composition. It’s a fun piece that captures without.”

The next step in this work is to better define these arbitrary starting points with data and add data for a more complete configuration.

“One of the big goals for the next phase of the project is probably chamber music, not orchestral, and building our way,” said James. “Whether I add another scientist or data scientist to the group, or Sophie tries to find a composer to work with, we’re trying to get more people on board.”

According to James, the goal of the work is to create “a fun and interesting way to connect people with nature.”

“We are going through a climate crisis. How do we get people to care at the end of the day?” James said. “Music is something that everyone has an emotional connection to, so seeking to nurture and deepen our emotional connection with nature through music is an avenue we can use for change.” I think.”

Music can be found on Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Spotify. The full concert video from November can be found on Chung’s YouTube channel. James will be giving a public talk on Harmony with Nature at the Coastal Perspectives Series at UConn Avery Point on February 7th at 7:30pm.

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