Artist uses air pollution to create music in piece titled Sounding Out Pollution

“Sound is often a striking way to express data that is normally presented through one of the other senses” – Robert Jarvis, sound artist

Birmingham Sounding Out Pollution

Image: Alamy

Researchers at Birmingham University have created music using air pollution after compiling air quality data from urban and rural locations at different times of the day. They then translated this data into music with a variety of different instruments and styles.

The project, entitled Sounding Out Pollution, consists of three distinct pieces.

The first compares pollution data from the countryside and cities in the UK. The second charts how air pollution changes on an hourly basis across the West Midlands, while the third illustrates the changes in pollution as we take a journey from Birmingham’s rural outskirts into the city centre.

Reflecting on the pieces, sound artist Robert Jarvis said: “Sound is often a striking way to express data that is normally presented through one of the other senses. Perhaps from years of listening to music, people are pretty proficient at deciphering sonic information.

“As a result, by using audio in this way we can quickly form new understandings. My hope is that Sounding Out Pollution offers a useful way in learning about how our immediate environment is changed by the choices we make.”

Jarvis has been working as a creator, performer, and musician since the early 90s, and has won two British Composer Awards.

This is not the first work by Jarvis that uses music to highlight important issues. His installation SONORA_V19 is considered a sonic interpretation of the reported daily active cases of COVID-19 from nineteen countries. The work is being updated on a monthly basis and is being shown at exhibitions across the globe.

Birmingham University’s Prof William Bloss added: “Hearing how air pollution levels vary can help us to understand how the air we breathe changes with location and with the time of day. For example, some air pollutants are closely linked to road traffic – others less so. Sounding Out pollution helps people understand these differences, and so make decisions that may affect their air pollution exposure.”

The piece is part of the university’s The Air We Breathe exhibition. Learn more at birmingham.ac.uk

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