'Data bells' make music from climate change

This weekend sees the debut of "Climate Ringing," a sonic representation of rising temperatures over the last century, played on bronze bells and derived from NASA data.

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Composer Laurence Osborn (left) and artist Peter Shenai have created a musical representation of climate change. Change Ringing

What does climate change sound like? Air conditioners blasting and teeth chattering, arguably. But in the hands of artist Peter Shenai and composer Laurence Osborn, you'll hear bronze bells whose tones depend on where they're struck.

These aren't just any bells, however. They're "data bells," made using 3D-printing technology, with shapes mathematically derived from graphs of shifting global temperatures over the last century.

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Bells made with 3D-printing technology are ringing. Change Ringing

"When the bells are arranged in a line and struck in order, their tones incrementally shift and morph, just as the graphs do," Shenai explains of the resulting composition "Change Ringing," which will see its world premiere this weekend in London. "In combination, these bells produce a tone row that sonically narrates the story of climate change since the industrial revolution."

That tone row forms the basis of a 25-minute composition written by Osborn for nine solo string instruments and a percussionist playing the six bells suspended from strings. Osborn is a resident artist with the London Symphony Orchestra's Soundhub, which provides a platform for emerging composers across a wide range of musical genres.

Shenai, a recent graduate in information-experience design at London's Royal College of Art, created his bells from data, based on NASA studies, that represents mean global summer temperatures at 17-year intervals from 1912-2013.

"The spectrum of each of Peter's bells contains between three and five strong frequencies which, when converted into pitches, form the opening chord of each section," Osborn says. "The harmonic language of each section of 'Change Ringing' is entirely drawn from the addition and subtraction of these frequencies, and the combination and difference tones that result when these are converted into pitches."

After digitizing his bells, Shenai 3D-printed molds in layers of malleable plaster only a few microns thick each. He then poured molten wax into the molds to create casts, which he strengthened and refined before heading into the furnace room. Each bell measures between about 5 and 10 inches in diameter and stands less than a foot high.

"Change Rising" will debut Saturday at the London Symphony Orchestra's LSO's Soundhub Showcase, which may well be the first time climate change is music to anyone's ears.

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Leslie Katz, Crave's senior editor, heads up a team that covers the most crushworthy (and wackiest) tech, science, and culture around. As a co-host of the now-retired CNET News Daily Podcast, she was sometimes known to channel Terry Gross and still uses her trained "podcast voice" to bully the speech recognition software on automated customer service lines. E-mail Leslie.

 

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