Sonic Others: Metaphorical Sonification of Collective Events

Thesis Advisor: Axel Kilian
Reader: Arvind Satyanarayan (EECS)

The year 2020 has brought many long-running global crises into light. The climate crisis has become more tangible than ever, and the pressures of the global pandemic further escalated racial injustice. Making sense of such phenomena is overwhelming, and the efforts of journalists and data scientists to explain them in words or visual representations have repeatedly failed to evoke empathy from people. Global crises are hyperobjects, as defined by ecological theorist Timothy Morton, in-experienceable objects that are vastly distributed in time and space beyond human’s perceptive capability. Hyperobjects inevitably involve radically different temporalities than the ones relatable to human beings.

Central to the thesis is the questioning of how the hyperobjects can be made experienceable. In doing so, I suggest a new way of engaging with the hyperobjects by bringing forward listening that has been considered as a mere backdrop of our experience. The thesis is delivered threefold. First, an overview of historical examples of how different senses have been utilized to raise empathy is conducted, and further argue how the auditory sense works best in doing so. Second, I propose a scalable framework to construct a sonic metaphor of a set of events that constitutes the hyperobject. The sonic metaphor is a conceptual metaphor, constructed through the conceptual blending of the sounds we are already familiar with. I describe collective events through the structure of meaning making that is deeply ingrained in how humans learn abstract concepts based on their prior knowledge. Finally, the proposed framework is demonstrated to deliver multifaceted concepts of Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place in thousands of cities across the globe. By collecting and reconstructing the audio footage that have been recorded on site, I deliver an experience that is engaging and evocative. The ultimate goal of the thesis is to validate a hypothesis: hyperobjects are better heard than seen.