Humans have five senses that we interpret in extremely specific ways—and not always the best way. Anyone who’s ever mixed music digitally has benefitted from the ability to see sound in waveforms, which can be a visual shorthand that’s far faster than listening to a clip again.
Mark Fischer takes the principle of seeing sound even further in his project Aguasonic Acoustics. After collecting the calls of whales, dolphins, and birds, Fischer interprets the data into a wavelet, or what my pea brain interprets as a spirograph of sound. Then he maps colors on top of this, leaving the viewer with a techno-psychedelic rendition of natural sounds. But as wild as these frames look, they aren’t artistic abstractions. They’re real information, just mapped in a new way.
"The art comes from the sounds themselves," Fischer confirms to Co.Design. "The images are simply wavelet transforms in polar coordinates. I do not apply any manipulation…the whales and dolphins (and many birds in fact, although I would say the Humpbacks are the virtuosos here) do the rest."
Fischer is a software developer by trade, and he grew interested in animal sounds about 13 years ago. At first he considered going back to school. Then, in researching the field of bio acoustics, he felt that their state-of-the-art visualization techniques were relatively low-fi. So he started coding on his own. And while Wired points out that at least one scientist is skeptical about the utility of Fischer’s images, any layperson can appreciate the distinctive visual fingerprints that Fischer has developed.
"A sound made by the Minke whale has a very plain-vanilla appearance in its [traditional] spectrogram," Fischer points out. "However, some of the wavelet transforms of the same sound have simply striking results."
Indeed, Fischer is doing something maybe even more valuable than visualizing for sheer scientific purposes. He’s visualizing at an intrinsic level, creating pictures of the guttural responses that a single species may have to a sound the rest of us would classify as ho-hum. When I see the Minke whale’s call through Fischer’s eyes, I get a glimpse of how important and nuanced that call must be to fellow whales. And my eyes are able to appreciate something that my ears did not.
[Hat tip: Smithsonian]