Listen to music based on rainfall data
When USA TODAY began reporting on how climate change affects precipitation, it saw an astonishing change in the way rain falls across much of America.
East of the Rockies, it rains more and arrives in more intense gusts. In the West, people wait longer to see rain. Some regions experience more dramatic oscillations between the two extremes – with precipitation and droughts reverting to precipitation.
While the impact of this change is being felt nationwide, some states are receiving an additional boost, USA TODAY found. These states include Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arkansas, and Iowa.
To help explain the impact of these changes in precipitation, USA TODAY turned to Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. Faculty members from the School of Music and Recording agreed to compose original music for each state based on more than a century of precipitation data.
Each composer used different musicalities to bring his pieces to life, but all used real rain sounds in their work.
Hear the pieces, view the data, and learn more about the artists and how they chose their approach below:
Timothy Stulman, composer and director of the music composition department, used a melodic line to represent peak precipitation and peaks in dry years for the state of Pennsylvania.
Stulman measured the highest and lowest precipitation amounts in musical parameters in his software.
Using the sounds of the flute and cello, he matched the highest precipitation year to the highest and strongest flute lines he could get and the lowest amount of precipitation is represented by the strongest and lowest cello line.
He collected recorded sounds of wind, thunder and rain, then combined them with flute and cello melodies.
The higher peak years are represented by higher and stronger flute lines, while the drier years are represented by three cellos playing descending melodies. Density and volume correlate directly with annual precipitation data for Pennsylvania from 1895.
âI wanted to create my own virtual storm in order to have more precise control over its intensity. So rather than using a single recording of a storm, I used individual sounds of rain, wind and thunder, âhe said. âIf there was a year of really heavy precipitation, I would choose records of intense precipitation, strong winds and mixed them with strong thunderclaps. So this is not a single record of a storm, but rather various storm elements mixed together based on the precipitation data. “
Each year is represented by two seconds of music and sound.
Thomas Owen visited Tennessee with his family over Christmas vacation last winter and had new memories of the snow covering the ground. This piqued his interest in the state’s precipitation, and he discovered that the annual data had “an interesting shape.”
âYou see these huge peaks of heavy rainfall,â said Owen, director of the recording department and director of the recording arts department and associate director of the interactive audio course. âSonifying that it is really easy to hear and to be able to tell the difference in the climate. “
For this project, rather than a musical composition with theoretical elements, he decided to try to create a soundscape of the Tennessee weather, with real sounds of rain and wind. He used a series of actual rain and wind records from the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
For much of the 1900s, the data was pretty similar from year to year, so a listener will hear consistency in the first half of the play, he said. During the second half, especially over the past 30 years, âyou’re going to hear the volatility of having an extreme amount of rain. “
Five of Tennessee’s 10 wettest years in 105 years of data have occurred in the past 10 years.
Every second of his music represents a year of time.
From the moment Marc Pinsky heard the proposal to create musical pieces from the data that reveals the changes in precipitation, he was excited.
âI thought it was exactly the project I was waiting for. It touches so many of my passions, âsaid Pinsky, course director in audio production. His goal was to make the pieces aesthetically pleasing to someone who listens to them as music.
Pinsky was too enthusiastic to pick just one state, so he wrote plays for five: Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In rooms looking at the driest and wettest first 10 years, a regular tick occurs for each year, the driest first 10 are represented by low plucked strings, while the first 10 wettest are represented by high-pitched plucked strings.
He also prepared a track for the state of Michigan, giving listeners the opportunity to identify humidity and drought. He ranked each decade on a scale from 1 to 13 and used those numbers to represent the notes of the C minor scale, played by a violin.
This served as a “sheet of music,” resulting in a melody that allows the listener to hear how the amounts of precipitation increase and decrease over time, he said. As the precipitation increases, the height of the violin increases, and as the precipitation decreases, the height decreases. He also superimposed a recording of rain in the background, which also increases and decreases over time.
He chose a violin melody for the pieces conveying the annual precipitation by decade, because this sound, with the higher notes of a violin, reminded him of the sound of a raindrop.
A single note on a violin can be “such a haunting sound and when it’s played the way it’s been played here,” he said. “It really penetrates, in my opinion, the soul and that melodic line just didn’t sound right on any other instrument.”
For the annual precipitation pieces, he rounded the data to a whole number, then assigned it to a note in the C minor scale, creating a melody that rises and falls in pitch with the changing amounts of rain.
To more clearly identify the driest years, the note values ââtrigger the sounds of bass instruments, including the double bass, bassoon, contrabassoon, and synth guitar. The wettest years are represented by high-pitched instruments such as piccolo, flute, oboe and clarinet as well as the bell sound of a glockenspiel.
The musical performance speaks to someone in a way words couldn’t, he said. “I hope it just hits them emotionally.”