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Still from “A Song of Our Warming Planet” (via vimeo)

A cellist has composed a haunting song that turns charted data of climate change into an ominous serenade.

Daniel Crawford, an undergraduate studying geography and environmental science at the University of Minnesota, discussed the project this week on Scientific American. As he states in the video of the project from Ensia:

“What we’re trying to do is represent with the music the immediacy and the importance that the issue has right now, and if we act on that then maybe it won’t be as much of an issue for the future.”

And communicating this via charts and lists of data doesn’t have that immediacy for all people in the way music can. For “A Song of Our Warming Planet,” each note matches a year, with its pitch determined by the layering of surface temperature data from NASA’s Goddard Institute of Spaces Studies over three octaves. The year 1909, the coolest of the data set at –0.47 °C, is the lowest cello note (an open C), with each halftone up matching at 0.03°C temperature increase. The rise and fall of the notes from 1880 to 2012 works up to an ominous, almost shrill, peak.

As geography professor Scott St. George, with whom Crawford interned, stated:

“Data visualizations are effective for some people, but they aren’t the best way to reach everyone. Instead of giving people something to look at, Dan’s performance gives them something they can feel.”

You can download the sheet music and audio file here (scroll to the bottom of the page), both of which are available under Creative Commons for others to adapt.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...