Buoy Music

During my time as an Artist-in-Residence at the Iowa Lakeside Lab, a biological field research station in northwest Iowa, I developed a system that creates music from high-frequency data being collected from a sensor-laden buoy managed by the Lakeside Lab in West Okoboji Lake.

Here you can listen to how the data sounded form the time period in which I was an Artist-in-Residence at the lab.

This buoy in West Okoboji Lake has an array of sensors monitoring things happening both below and above the water surface. Every ten minutes, the buoy is reporting information such as precipitation, windspeed, water surface temperature, water temperatures at two meter increments to the lake bed, carbon dioxide, dissolved oxygen, etc. These values are stored in a database, reported live to the web, and available through a free app. The Buoy Music project I created uses this data to develop musical compositions that reflect that status and changing conditions of the lake. Essentially what the project does is use the data from 5 sensors to control 5 virtual instruments. Each instrument is associate with a specific sensor and the value from that sensor at a given time is what produces the sound. Think of it as if you had a piano. If the temperature is 57° then the 57th key on the keyboard would be pressed. Or if the pH level were 8.1, then a control knob would be rotated to 81%.

A conference poster explaining the process, presented alongside the function performance system

The goal of this project is to create a different kind of experience with the data coming from the lake. Being able to listen to how things are changing provides a different perspective and is rich with potential for extended listening from year to year. As I continue my involvement with Lakeside Lab in my two current roles there, I look forward to being able to hear how the lake sounds from one year to the next during the same time of year. It has also become a tool for outreach and communication at the intersection of art and science. Buoy Music provides non-scientists with ways to experience what is happening in and around the lake. It allows people to understand what the buoy is and provides an access point for the important and valuable work happening at the Iowa Lakeside Lab. Over time, it will be a reflection on how the area is doing in its efforts to protect the lake and its water quality.

This project was featured on Iowa Public Radio’s Talk of Iowa with Charity Nebe. I was interviewed for 18 minutes live on the air the interview has been rebroadcast at least three times since it’s original airing. The full interview can be heard online and during the month it originally aired, the online recording was one of the top ten visited stories on the entire IPR site.

The interview can be found on the IPR website here