IxD Studio Project : Data VisualizationUrban BirdsLisa Woods, CCA MFA Design, February 2012
Oo-wah-hooo, hoo-hoo...Urban birds are not the first animals we imagine when we think of “nature”despite the fact that we hear them and interact with them on a daily ba-sis. Perhaps this is because they are city dwellers like us, and like all goodurbanites, we both have learned to go about our business while ignoringeach other.But urban birds can’t fully ignore us. In fact, some need to change to liveamong us. But I did not know that when I began this data visualization as-signment. I just stumbled across a recording of a mourning dove (Zenaidamacroura) online and was mesmerized by it.You can listen to it here:http://www.birdjam.com/birdsong.php?id=7.
First thoughtsAn early idea was to integrate the mourning dove audio into a mathematicalflocking animation like this one from Daniel Shiffman (http://processing.org/learning/topics/flocking.html), and add a motion sensor that activated theanimation whenever someone walked by.An interesting tidbit about mourning doves—they are not endangered. Infact they are so numerous that up to 10% of the population is allowedbe legally hunted. I considered basing my animation on some sort ofpopulation data, but the class’s feedback was that a steady population isnot a compelling story. Also, since doves don’t migrate, they are not trulyflocking birds.I knew I wanted to do something with sound, but I was not sure what. So Istarted really looking at all kinds of sound data about birds and looking atvisual representations of sound.
1st sketchI then found an audio-visualization processingsketch that I altered to toggle with a key press be-tween two different bird calls and the sound ofurban traffic.While this visualization was beautiful and reallyallows the viewer to focus on the sounds in thesketch, this code lacked the ‘handles and knobs’ Ineeded to tell the story of how birds change theircalls to be heard in the noisier urban environment.On the Processing reference site there is somemuch more bare-bones code that turns audio in-put into a line-based audiogram. I used this codeto create the next iteration.
Final visualizationThe final visualization is a screen-based Processing sketch, not the large-scale projected piece I initially imagined. What I like about this iterationhowever, is that it tells the story about an interesting bit of data abouturban birds—they sing at higher frequencies in order to be heard over thelow-frequency drone of urban traffic sounds.This version is perhaps less emotionally engaging than the previous Pro-cessing sketch, but here the participant is easily able to visually and audiblycompare the urban and rural birdsong of five different songbirds as well asturn off and on sample background traffic noise.