Skip to main content

The aesthetic turn in sonification towards a social and cultural medium

We’re sorry, something doesn't seem to be working properly.

Please try refreshing the page. If that doesn't work, please contact support so we can address the problem.


The public release of datasets on the internet by government agencies, environmental scientists, political groups and many other organizations has fostered a social practice of data visualization. The audiences have expectations of production values commensurate with their daily experience of professional visual media. At the same time, access to this data has allowed visual designers and artists to apply their skills to what was previously a field dominated by scientists and engineers. The ‘aesthetic turn’ in data visualization has sparked debates between the new wave and older more scientifically grounded schools of thought on the topic. Sonification is not as well known or commonly practiced as visualization. But sound is a naturally affective, aesthetic and cultural medium. The extension of the aesthetic turn to sonification could transform this field from a scientific curiosity and engineering instrument into a popular mass medium. This paper proposes that a design approach can facilitate an aesthetic turn in sonification that integrates aesthetics and functionality by dissolving divisions between scientific and artistic methods. The first section applies the design perspective to the definition of sonification by replacing the linguistic concept of representation with non-verbal concept of functionality. The next section describes applications of the TaDa design method that raised aesthetic issues particular to sonification practice. The final section proposes a pragmatic aesthetics that distinguishes sonification from the auditory sciences and sonic arts. A design perspective may lead to a future where the general public tunes into pop sonifications for listening enjoyment as well as useful information about the world.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. Barrass S (1996a) TaDa! demonstrations of auditory information design. In: Proceedings of the 3rd international conference on auditory display (ICAD’96). Xerox PARC, Palo Alto

  2. Barrass S (1996b) EarBenders: using stories about listening to design auditory interfaces. In: Proceedings of the 1st Asia-Pacific conference on human computer interaction (APCHI’96). Information Technology Institute, Singapore

  3. Barrass S (1998) Auditory information design. Doctoral thesis, Australian National University. ISBN:0-599-37487-X.

  4. Barrass S (2003) Sonification from a design perspective, invited keynote. In: International conference on auditory display (ICAD 2003), Boston

  5. Barrass S, Kramer G (1999) Using sonification. J Multimedia Syst (Special Issue on Audio and Multimedia) 1

  6. Barrass S, Zehner B (2000) Responsive sonification of well-logs. In: Proceedings of the international conference on auditory display (ICAD 2000), Atlanta, 2–5 Apr 2000

  7. Barrass S, Whitelaw M, Bailes F (2006) Listening to the mind listening: an analysis of sonification reviews, designs and correpondences. Leonardo Music J 16:13–19

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Barrass S, Schaffert N, Barrass T (2010) A pilot study of preferences six interactive sonifications for sporting activities. In: Proceedings of ISon 2010, 3rd interactive sonification workshop, KTH, Stockholm, 7 Apr 2010

  9. Effenberg AO (1996) Sonification—ein akustisches Informationskonzept zur menschlichen Bewegung, vol 111. Beitrage zur Lehre und Forschung im Sport. Verlag Karl Hoffmann, Schorndorf. ISBN:3-778016113

  10. Henkelmann C (2007) Improving the aesthetic quality of realtime motion data sonification, computer graphics, Technical Report CG-2007-4. University of Bonn

  11. Kramer et al (1999) NSF sonification report. The International Community for Auditory Display. ISBN:0-9670904-0-7.

  12. Scaletti C (1994) Sound synthesis algorithms for auditory data representations. In: Kramer G (ed) Auditory display, sonification, audification and auditory interfaces, SFI studies in the sciences of complexity, proceedings vol XVIII. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading

  13. Schaffert N, Mattes K, Effenberg AO (2009) A sound design for the purposes of movement optimisation in elite sport (using the example of rowing). In: Proceedings 15th international conference on auditory display (ICAD), Copenhagen, May 18–21, pp 72–75

  14. Schertenlieb A, Barrass S (2010) A social site for information sonification:, submitted to the international conference on auditory display, Washington, 9–15 June 2010

  15. Straebel V (2010) The sonification metaphor in instrumental music and sonification’s romantic implications. In: Proceedings of the 16th international conference on auditory display, Washington

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stephen Barrass.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Barrass, S. The aesthetic turn in sonification towards a social and cultural medium. AI & Soc 27, 177–181 (2012).

Download citation


  • Sonification
  • Information design
  • Popular culture
  • Data aesthetics