Sonifying Noise Pollution

  • Jen Haugan
Road traffic is one of the main sources of noise pollution in cities, and its impacts on human health are well documented. “Sonifying Noise Pollution” is a self-initiated data visualisation project I made using Max MSP to sonify noise pollution data from road traffic sources, based on data obtained from the European Environmental Agency.
With this project, I wanted to highlight the extent of noise pollution from road traffic sources in the UK, and highlight how certain industrial towns such as Slough and Warrington actually have noise pollution levels exceeding that of cities such as London due to their infrastructure.
The datasets from the EEA contained information on the percentages of people in UK cities who were exposed to dangerous levels of noise pollution (>55 dB) on a day-to-day basis. I then refined this data and colour-coded each city according to its noise pollution level. The colour channels were then each assigned a particular frequency and members of the public could click on the map to hear the different levels of noise pollution in each city.
I collaborated with RCM composer Lara Poe and we did a series of field recordings which she further processed, giving each city a unique soundscape which corresponded to its noise pollution level.
We pitched our project to IRCAM in January, and presented it to the public and IRCAM researchers at the IRCAM 2017 forum workshops in Paris in March this year. The public were then able to navigate our sonified map using either a mouse or the Leap Motion controller.
We hope to be able to further develop the project in the future, working with local councils, and develop it into a web application where people can upload their own sounds to represent different parts of the country and learn more about noise pollution in general.