Visualization often wins out over sonification when it comes to making data clear. But sound has one key advantage: it can make time and scale apparent, by tapping directly into our perception of forward time.

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, born well into the Nuclear Age in 1959, uses that property to chilling effect. The sounds in “1945-1998” are made still more unsettling in their rendering as tranquil, musical sounds rather than explosions. Quietly, World War III is waged not in wartime, but in the 2053 nuclear explosions that erupt mainly in thermonuclear tests (led, ironically, by the United States). This isn’t just political noise, either; the scale of thermonuclear tests has made virtually everyone reading this site a child of the fallout of the testing age, quite literally. And this falls on the anniversary of the deadly blasts detonated by the US to close World War II.

The 2003 work was dedicated as a kind of universal message, thanks to its rendering in sound:

This piece of work is a bird’s eye view of the history by scaling down a month length of time into one second. No letter is used for equal messaging to all viewers without language barrier. The blinking light, sound and the numbers on the world map show when, where and how many experiments each country have conducted. I created this work for the means of an interface to the people who are yet to know of the extremely grave, but present problem of the world

Sound, after all, can convey real messages, not only about our past and tragedy, but about our future.

Hosted by the people working to end nuclear testing worldwide
Via our friend David Auerbach at Digitalfix.

  • mat

    great art!
    I like the idea of making a timeline hearable..

  • midihendrix

    wow, this is moving and exciting to watch

  • Interesting. Didn't know anything about thermonuclear testing. Now i know a bit more (and went to read a bit more about it elsewhere too).

    Thank you.

  • My friend Robert Alexander works a bit in sonification. He recently took space data from Nasa and created this:

  • dyscode

    <cite> thermonuclear tests (led, ironically, by the United States).</cite>

    Sorry, I don´t understand, where is the irony with this fact?

  • Alejandro Vukasovic

    Damn… That was sad… All the resources of our world just to test how destroy ourselves… We don't need any asteroid… 🙁

  • @dyscode: Ironic given what the US was claiming about the USSR at the time. Or maybe it's the US leading the test ban treaty efforts that's ironic, depending on how you look at it. But, you know, it was a different time in history. It's easy to judge all the players (including the USSR). What would be harder to forgive is if we failed to learn from what happened, which is why something as simple as a sonification — linked to actual possible policy — could actually have some real meaning.

  • He forgot one, one that still has not admitited openly to having a nuclear weapon, and still hase not joined the world nuke club – Isreal. Its open knowledge that they have them, but its political sucicide to push the issue.
    Im not bashing Isreal, but politics aside, they should have been included to push the point home IMHO. There are a lot of great underground electronic artists from that area of the world.

  • yep…interesting work but sad music

    and i 'm French…

  • had no idea GB tests nukes in the US…

  • San Franciscan

    Looks like it's pretty clear what the US thinks about the west coast.

  • @nung242: There's no evidence Israel has ever *tested* weapons, however, so it makes sense that it's not in the visualization.

  • Joseph Dee

    I love CDM and Electronic music generally.
    I'm really sorry to see such political claptrap on the site.
    Your views are so far from reality I'm going to find it hard to read you now.
    Everything you just said about Israel and American/Soviet Nukes is incorrect.
    Read up before posting hurtful, (yes hurtful, nukes have actually affected many people) comments about politics.
    I'm not going to lecture on Nuclear disarmament here as it IS NOT THE RIGHT PLACE.
    And anyway I've been a paid up member of CND since the early 1960's, I know lecturing people with Murdochian views will not change anything.
    Please no more politics, Put this story back in the 1980's where it belongs.
    Create. Music. Not Fear & Hate.

  • @Joseph Dee: I'm not even sure I expressed any particular views. (Someone raised the question of Israel; my comment is merely that it's not included on the visualization because there's no confirmed record of any Israeli tests.)

    The quantity of thermonuclear testing is simply a matter of fact and public record. Whatever the view on the issue, sonification of data turns it from cold numbers into something to which people can more easily relate.

    Sound can be used for all sorts of applications. Some of them are likely to be politically sensitive, or even divisive. But that doesn't make that *less* relevant as a use of sound; I'd say it makes it more.

    Like I said, the whole point of the piece is that sound composition here makes a political statement by the artist more poignant. And I don't think anyone can argue with the realities of the nuclear fallout produced by extensive testing, or the dangers of nuclear weapons. The policy conclusions anyone would draw from this, though, remain open to interpretation.

    And the relevance to CDM is simply that sonification can be used to make data more meaningful. If this topic is one you believe should be in the 80s, that doesn't take away the potential of the technique for engaging other questions.

  • Anyway, I generally get accused of such "political claptrap" if I mention iPhones or Linux, so we might as well deal with *actual,* significant political issues.

  • Let the remixes commence! Aleatoric Armageddon? Test Ban Tango? Thermo New Clear Dawn Serenade? Have at it!

  • unless there is something seriously fallacious in regards the the data used in the original piece of work, i honestly dont see any politics in the original posting/story (although the "ironic" bit is editorial).

  • Yes, "ironic" was a poor choice of words, just because it's hard to know what's ironic, exactly. There has been a factual dissonance between the message of the US government and the realities of dangers of nuclear weapons and fallout, since comprehensive testing began over half a century ago. That's not to pass judgment on the political pressures that led to those decisions, but the gap between policy, message, and real dangers is simply a reality.

    The facts about the US — again, this is non-editorial — the US has led the world in nuclear testing, and long opposed efforts for a test ban. That's simply a matter of fact. Most recently, Obama made ratifying the treaty a campaign promise.

    That's the facts on the matter. I don't know that either the work nor I have made any particular political message overt. But no, I'm not avoiding topics just because they might have political weight; I think politics and music overlap regularly.

  • Alejandro Vukasovic

    @Peter: I'm with you. By the way… When the people don't like the facts, it's their problem; they are pretty sensitive when the facts don't fit with their view of the world.
    I don`t see any problem to show the number of nuclear tetst carried in the last century. 2051 tests! Wow!!! We are lucky that World War III has never happened. I remember when I readed military technology books. I was a kid and the "Final Conflagration" looked pretty near.
    PD: There are important issues for all of us as humanity. Sweep under the carpet, look to the side, pretending everything is fine is not an appropriate attitude. As a species we should let our crazy youth (no offense to anyone) and assume responsibility for our future.

  • @Peter
    I appologize for expressing a political view. I meant it more for the knowledge that we are surrounded by many things we never see (or are never shown). Like the number of great underground electronic artists in Isreal, the west bank and Palastine that live in an area just as active in nuclear development. Like all of us, its about electronic music for a better living… we all have our views, and we respect one another. Thats what matters the most. 🙂

  • MrBen

    So …. more than 2000 nukes fired in 50 years … How much radiation was released in the atmosphere (and oceans ) ? Probably nothing to do with the increase rate of cancers in the past 50 year … It's all because of cigarettes and fat bbq sausages anyway 🙂

  • I think people are perceiving a gap between their political opinions and mine where none actually exists. I take very seriously the devastating environmental and human impact of ongoing testing; that's why I posted this.

  • HEXnibble

    Thanks for posting this Peter. I for one would like to see more posts like this about uses of music dealing with important issues that affects all of us in profound ways. I agree that making music/art can never be viewed completely separate from real world issues/politics/philosophies.

  • midihendrix

    Good point HEXnibble. This is a good example of art which moves us through abstract use of the viewer's knowledge of historical things.

  • Tim MB

    One thing I quite like about this is that the countries mainly seem to be nuking themselves (apart from the UK and France who seem to have got the nack of doing it in someone else's country). Nice to see a vague reduction in the nineties too.

    I think although the early ones were done in the deserts, later ones were done underground to minimize the fallout. Not sure how effective this was. But I remember hearing that loads of people involved in creating the Westerns in the fifties ended up with tragically high cancer rates as they were filming close to the test sites.