ARTS 4962/6962: Interdisciplinary Research Seminar - Sonification: Art and Science

Arts Department, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Monday/Thursday, 2:00-3:50pm, TBD

Instructor: Rob Hamilton, West Hall 114

e: hamilr4 [at] rpi [dot] edu






Sonification, or the use of sound to represent data, is at the same time a science and an art form. This advanced interdisciplinary research seminar focuses on tools and methodologies used in both artistic and scientific interest areas to sonify data, exploring topics including auditory display, large-scale data sets, procedural audio, real-time data streams and musical sonification

ARTS 4962/6962 will be run in partnership with Prof. Ted Krueger’s Production Installation Performance (PIP) Studio course in the Department of Architecture, and EMPAC and will feature special guest Andrea Polli, Professor of Art Ecology and Engineering at the University of New Mexico


Students will explore the artistic role of music and sound in gaming by building their own interactive sound and music-rich games and 2D/3D rendered environments. Within the context of their own creative game projects, students will learn the basics of designing sound and composing music for interactive game spaces. Using workflow programming languages and software tools, students will program basic gaming interactions, link them to interactive audio software, and create a musical gaming experience.


You will be required to present some of your assignments to the class, to show your work within the software environment you used to create it, and to engage the class in discussion of your work. When you are not presenting your own work, you need to be attentive to whoever is presenting, and to engage them in discussion of their work. Failure to participate in class will lower your grade.


You must attend class to succeed in this course.

  1. Since much of the class is focused on listening to and discussing work in class, attendance is mandatory.
  2. ** More then two unexcused absences will affect your grade, detracting 1/2 grade each additional 2 unexcused absences. **
  3. Absences can only be excused by a letter from a medical doctor or from the Dean of Students' office.
  4. Late arrivals are very disruptive - continued late arrival will affect your grade.
  5. It should go without saying but no use of mobile devices or personal computers during class time (except for as required by the coursework itself) is acceptable. Continued violations will be treated as an unexcused absence.


Collaboration between students in this course is strongly encouraged. Likewise, students are encouraged—indeed, to some extent required—to exchange ideas, opinions and information . You are also encouraged to help each other in the lab and with performance, production, and presentation of composition projects.

Plagiarism of any kind is in direct violation of University policy on Academic Dishonesty as defined in the Rensselaer Handbook, and penalties for plagiarism can be severe. In this class you will be expected to attribute due credit to the originator of any ideas, words, sounds, or music which you incorporate substantially into your own work. This applies particularly to citation of sources for sonic "samples" included in your compositions.

Submission of any assignment that is in violation of this policy may result in a grade of F for the assignment in question. Violation of this policy will be reported, as defined in the Rensselaer Handbook


Students requiring assistance are encouraged to contact Disability Services: to discuss any special accommodations or needs for this course.


The Sonification Handbook (link, .pdf)


The proposed course topics and schedule will be as follows (take note of project due dates!). Based on class progress and interests, this schedule is subject to change. Special topics, guest lectures, supplemental reading, listening and additional assignments to be announced.

Week 1:
Thursday, 8/30
Introduction: Sonification as an Art and as a Science

PIP Studio (ARCH) - 2016 Project

GUEST: November 1 - Chris Chafe @ EMPAC

READING: The Sonification Handbook - chpts 1-2 (link: )

  • Come to class (Thursday) prepared to discuss
  • INFO: Tour of EMPAC led by Johannes Goebel this Saturday (9/1)

Week 2:
Thursday, 9/6

Sonification Report (Kramer et al., 1999) (link)

Andrea Polli: site, Atmospherics/Weather Works, paper, lecture

Jonathan Middleton (NY Times)Protein Music (paper)

The Jefferson Project: (lab, video, progress report)

LECTURE: Carla Scaletti: "Why Sonification Is A Joke" link

  • "Inference Preserving" mappings
  • From source domain to target domain
  • Points and relations between points
  • "Relationships, Connections, Structure and Patterns"

LISTEN: Georgia Tech Eclipse Sonification (link)

TOOL: Sonification Sandbox: link

Week 3:
Monday, 9/10

Using ChucK: an introduction
Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists: Creating music with ChucK

California Drought Data: viewer, data (git)
Xerasia by Rob Hamilton: video

READING: download...

Schedule: Google Doc