String Quartet Composed from 133 Years of Climate Change Data, by Daniel Crawford [WATCH]

By Steve Nagel on Nov 30, 2015 11:38 PM EST

Pushing the uses for music ever further down the rabbit hole, the latest application of a string quartet carries some scientific implications. 133 years of climate change data have been compressed into a short piece for string quartet by geographer (and now composer) Daniel Crawford, a senior at the University of Minnesota. Visualizing the climate change data, which has been collected in various parts of the world since 1880, Daniel Crawford devised a system where the stringed instruments would musically combine to represent time, latitude, and climate in the span of a short piece.

The video Daniel Crawford released through the University of Minnesota, entitled “The Sound of Climate Change from the Amazon to the Arctic”, shows how the four instruments are divided into Earth’s general temperature zones. The cello represents the equatorial zone, the viola the mid-latitudes, and the two violins represent both the higher latitudes and the arctic, respectively. Pitch, in each instance, is dependant on a simple hot/cold spectrum, i.e., a low pitch will mean a low temperature, and a high pitch will mean a high temperature.

The overall impression of the piece, despite oscillations between seasons and occassional oddball years, is that as the climate warms the overall register of the piece shifts from low to high, with the 1st violin straining to play the highest notes of all near the end of the piece. Some scientific conclusions can be drawn from the data—although the novel art piece helps to put them in perspective—such as the scope of temperature variances across the 133 year period, especially per region. The arctic, for instance, seems to exhibit the most variance with lows experienced in the 1880s and highs experienced most recently, while the mid latitudes fluctuate more wildly.

The project was undertaken by Daniel Crawford with the help of students from the University of Minnesota music department who interpreted the data and then added a distinctly musical flair. A breath mark, for instance, is taken between each decade to isolate the fluctuations in the short term as well as the long term.  Of course, with long term observations under intense scrutiny by the scientific community as of late, Daniel Crawford clearly intended to show a disparity between the low-end and the high-end over the course of the piece, suggesting that the arctic is more affected by climate change than the equatorial regions. As a result, a wide-interval tension accompanies the end of the piece.  Although, in most cases, composers meticulously plan out these narrative processes, in this case it seems that the drama was, in part, plainly written in the data.

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Tagsclimate change, Daniel Crawford, Music and Science, University of Minnesota