Digital Rain

Digital Rain is a data driven installation which explores the crossroads of generative music, emergence patterns, data sonification, and technology driven systems of expression. 192 electromagnetic relay switches, broken out into twenty-four units of eight, are arranged in a grid and mounted on the gallery wall. The relays are orchestrated by six Arduino Megas which are networked together and controlled by a hidden host computer. Weather conditions from a randomly selected meteorological station is collected by a Python script. The program then announces the location of the station along with the weather conditions via a text-to-speech algorithm and a stereo system. Meta conditions – such as sunny, rainy, or cloudy – select the composition’s style while the specifics of the sonification are determined by the wind speed, humidity, temperature and barometric pressure. Digital Rain utilizes the mechanical ticking of the relays as the sonic source material for the installation. The relays, because of their precision and speed, are able to actuate fast enough to produce sustained pitch. This, in addition to their aptitude for arrhythmic snaps, allows for a wide variety of soundscapes which are surprisingly representative of the atmospheric conditions they strive to emulate. When the short generative composition representing the conditions of the randomly chosen station comes to a close, the system resets and a new station is chosen. Digital Rain attempts to directly sonify weather conditions through the use of electromagnetic relay switches. The playback speed of the sonification is mapped to the temperature of the currently selected weather report: with a slower playback when the weather is cooler. The humidity dictates the note density, with a higher humidity resulting in less time between actuations. The installation cycles through stations at a steady pace, only lingering on a single station for more than a minute if networking errors occur. Digital Rain attempts to reflect the varied, grand scale of the earth’s atmospheric patterns, with hope of imparting on its viewer not only the specifics of the weather at one or two of the stations, but also how varied the weather is across the globe at any one moment. Digital Rain could have been realized as an interactive installation. Visitors could have been given agency over what weather station is being represented or could have selected the different parameters which affect sonification. However, this would have changed the dynamic of the installation and would have violated its conceptual goals. In the alternate scenario where guests are able to select individual weather stations, for example, they are more likely to view the system as an educational tool than a work of art. If guests are able to affect the playback parameters of the sonification algorithm, the accuracy of the sonification suffers: no longer sounding like the event it is attempting to emulate. Digital Rain, is an installation that, for conceptual reasons, does not benefit from human-circuit interactivity.

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