Molecular Sonification

Project started in 2015

This audio clip is a real-time rendering of the dynamics of an ensemble of quantum particles. As you listen to it, you are hearing the vibrational ebb and flow of a fluctuating dynamical system. In many domains of scientific representation – particularly those which are not directly accessible to our human sensory apparatuses – there is a certain arbitrariness to the representations upon which we rely. Examining the historical development of nano-scale visualizations shows the creative alternatives that have been explored – from Linus Pauling’s paper models of protein helices, to the metal, wood and plastic models used to represent protein structure, through to modern computer generated renderings of molecular structural data. Because there is no established convention for how to sonically “render” a nano-scale object, there is more scope for creative experiments in representation. While it might be true that visually depicting an atom as a sphere is a rather arbitrary decision, it is somewhat intelligible owing to the fact that both atoms and spheres have some sense in which they are spatially delimited. Attempting to define such a clearly delimited object in the audio realm is not as straightforward, neither spatially nor compositionally, because it is difficult to assert what constitutes a single atomistic object in a piece of sound design or music. Nevertheless, dynamical systems have a wide range of important “non-local” properties, which often arise from energetic and vibrational fluctuations. Such properties are extremely difficult to visualize using conventional ‘atomistic’ rendering strategies owing to their non-locality, but offer fertile territory for exploring using sound. The ‘molecular sonification’ project represents our ongoing algorithmic and aesthetic efforts to explore this representational frontier, and has taken on a variety of forms over the years, including a collaboration with violinist Nicola Benedetti in 2014, and a number of ‘tracks’ (like that above) which are composed from real-time molecular simulation data.