Publications

A list of publications directly from our team, or produced as a result of our work.

Introducing STRAUSS: a flexible sonification Python package

James W. Trayford and Chris M. Harrison

We introduce strauss (Sonification Tools and Resources for Analysis Using Sound Synthesis) a modular, self-contained and flexible Python sonification package, operating in a free and open source (FOSS) capacity. strauss is intended to be a flexible tool suitable for both scientific data exploration and analysis as well as for producing sonifications that are suitable for public outreach and artistic contexts. We explain the motivations behind strauss, and how these lead to our design choices. We also describe the basic code structure and concepts. We then present output sonification examples, specifically: (1) multiple representations of univariate data (i.e., single data series) for data exploration; (2) how multi-variate data can be mapped onto sound to help interpret how those data variables are related and; (3) a full spatial audio example for immersive Virtual Reality. We summarise, alluding to some of the future functionality as strauss development accelerates.

28th Proceedings of the International Community of Auditory Displays (2023), A pre-print available here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2311.16847 

Inspecting spectra with sound: proof-of-concept & extension to datacubes

James W. Trayford, C.M. Harrison, R.C. Hinz, M. Kavanagh Blatt, S. Dougherty and A. Girdhar

We present a novel approach to inspecting galaxy spectra using sound, via their direct audio representation `spectral audification'. We discuss the potential of this as a complement to (or stand-in for) visual approaches. We surveyed 58 respondents who use the audio representation alone to rate 30 optical galaxy spectra with strong emission lines. Across three tests, each focusing on different quantities measured from the spectra (signal-to-noise ratio, emission-line width, and flux ratios), we find that user ratings are well correlated with measured quantities. This demonstrates that physical information can be independently gleaned from listening to spectral audifications. We note the importance of context when rating these sonifications, where the order examples are heard can influence responses. Finally, we adapt the method used in this promising pilot study to spectral datacubes. We suggest that audification allows efficient exploration of complex, spatially-resolved spectral data.

Accepted for publication in Royal Astronomical Society's Techniques and Instrumentation (RASTI), 2023. A pre-print is available here: arXiv:2306.10126.

Evaluations and insights from a sonfication-based planetarium show intended for improving inclusivity

C.M. Harrison, A. Zanella and A. Girdhar

Audio Universe: Tour of the Solar System is an audio-visual show for planetariums and flatscreen viewing, designed in collaboration with members of the blind and vision impaired (BVI) community, BVI specialist teachers and their pupils. It aims to be suitable for audiences with all sight levels, by representing key concepts through sound, and using a carefully constructed narration. We present results from 291 audience evaluations. We find a strong appreciation from BVI and non-BVI audiences, with ~90% scoring 4 or 5 (out of 5) for both how useful and how enjoyable the sounds are. We also present results from surveying planetariums and communication leaders known to have downloaded the show. We find extensive international success for special events with the show, for BVI audiences and those with other special educational needs and disabilities (SEND; including sensory needs and learning difficulties). Feedback suggests  this is due to its multi-sensory, clearly narrated, and calm production. However, we also describe limitations identified during this evaluation exercise, including the show’s limited incorporation into regular (non special) planetarium programmes. This highlights an ongoing challenge of creating a fully inclusive planetarium experience.

Accepted for publication in CAPj, 33, 6 (2023). A pre-print is available here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2401.04188 

The Audible Universe Workshop: An interdisciplinary approach to the design and evaluation of tools for astronomical data sonification

N. Misdariis, S. Pauletto, N. Bonne, C. Harrison, K. Meredith, A. Zanella

The Audible Universe (AU) workshop focuses on consolidating what has been done in the field so far and identifying the areas where most effort is required to make progress over the coming years. The second edition of the AU workshop (AU2) took place in 2022, and brought together 50 experts, among whom astronomers interested in sonification, sound designers, experts in sound perception and educators. This community started a multi-disciplinary discussion about how to properly design and evaluate sonification tools. In this methodological and position paper, we present and discuss the main activities of the AU2 workshop, with a particular focus on activities concerned with the development of collaborative design processes, and the implementation of methods for evaluation. While this workshop was dedicated to fostering exchanges between the sonification community and astronomers, the structure and the methods used within the workshop are transferable to other application areas, and a contribution to the effort to develop interdisciplinary strategies for the development of the field of sonification.

Publication in 28th Proceedings of ICAD (2023) (peer reviewed).

Evaluating the efficacy of sonification for signal detection in univariate, evenly sampled light curves using astronify

J. Tucker Brown, C.M. Harrison, A. Zanella, J. Trayford

We performed testing of astronify, a prototype tool for sonification functionality within the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). We created synthetic light curves containing zero, one, or two transit-like signals with a range of signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs=3-100) and applied the default mapping of brightness to pitch. We performed remote testing, asking participants to count signals when presented with light curves as a sonification, visual plot, or combination of both. We obtained 192 responses, of which 118 self-classified as experts in astronomy and data analysis. For high SNRs (=30 and 100), experts and non-experts performed well with sonified data (85-100% successful signal counting). At low SNRs (=3 and 5) both groups were consistent with guessing with sonifications. At medium SNRs (=7 and 10), experts performed no better than non-experts with sonification but significantly better (factor of ~2-3) with visuals. We infer that sonification training, like that experienced by experts for visual data inspection, will be important if this sonification method is to be useful for moderate SNR signal detection within astronomical archives and broader research. Nonetheless, we show that even a very simple, and non-optimised, sonification approach allows users to identify high SNR signals. A more optimised approach, for which we present ideas, would likely yield higher success for lower SNR signals.

MNRAS, 516, 5674 (2022), a pre-print is available here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2209.04465 

Sound experts’ perspectives on astronomy sonification projects 

N. Misdariis, E. Ozcan, M. Grassi, S. Pauletto, S. Barrass, R. Bresin, P. Susini

This articles comes from our Audible Universe workshop, hosted by us at the Lorentz Centre in 2021. We brought together astronomers and experts in sound design and perception. One main outcome of this exchange was a global view on the astronomical data sonification paradigm for observing the diversity of tools, uses and users (including visually impaired people), but also the current limitations and potential methods of improvement. From this viewpoint, this article presents basic elements gathered and contextualized by sound experts in their respective fields (sound perception/cognition, sound design, psychoacoustics, experimental psychology), to anchor sonification for astronomy in a more well informed, methodological and creative process.

Nature Astronomy, 6, 1249 (2022), a pre-print is available here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2211.12725 

Q&A: Accessibility in Astronomy for the Visually Impaired

J. Noel-Storr and Michelle Willebrands 

This articles comes from our Audible Universe workshop, hosted by us at the Lorentz Centre in 2021. We spoke with four researchers to understand the accessibility challenges in astronomy research, education and outreach for blind and visually impaired (BVI) persons, as well as solutions to these challenges and how it innovates data analysis methods for all astronomers. Those interviewed: Nicolas Bonne (University of Portsmouth); Cheryl Fogle-Hatch (Museum Senses); Garry Foran (Swinburne University of Technology) and Enrique Perez Montero (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía).

Nature Astronomy, 6, 1216 (2022), a pre-print is available here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2206.13815

Audio Universe: A more accessible approach to creating shows

Chris Harrison & Theofanis Matsopoulos 

A description of the making of the planetarium show, lessons learnt along the way and how we applied our sonification code STRAUSS to create the sonifications. 

Journal of the International Planetarium Society, 51, No. 1, 18 (2022), PDF

Audio Universe Tour of the Solar System: using sound to make the Universe more accessible

Chris Harrison, James Trayford, Leigh Harrison and Nic Bonne  

A description of the making of the planetarium show, lessons learnt along the way and how we applied our sonification code STRAUSS to create the sonifications. 

Astronomy & Geophysics, 63 (Issue 2), 2.38-2.40 (2022), a pre-print is available here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2112.02110

Sonification and Sound Design for Astronomy Research, Education and Public    Engagement

A. Zanella, C.M. Harrison, S. Lenzi, J. Cooke, P. Damsma, S.W. Fleming

A review and perspective of sonification and sound design in astronomy (for research, education, outreach and accessibility) up until December 2021. We provide a summary of what has been done so far and success stories, as well as a discussion on why further progress and wider adoption has not been made to date. Finally we give some ideas of how to make further progress. 

Nature Astronomy, 6, 1241 (2022), a pre-print is available here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2206.13536

Audible Universe - Meeting Report

Chris Harrison, Anita Zanella, Nic Bonne, Kate Meredith and Nicolas Misdariis

A short summary of the discussion points and outcomes of the workshop hosted in August 2021 called 'Audible Universe'. This workshop brought together experts in sound design, sound perception, astronomy and communication to discussion current and future applications of sonification in astronomy (for research, outreach, education and accessibility).

Nature Astronomy, 6, 22 (2022), a pre-print is available here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2206.13542