What does a face sound like?

Although he studied engineering, Richard David James (or Aphex Twin) is an electronic musician who grew up in Cornwall. In 1999 he released an album titled ‘Windowlicker’. When describing the albums second track (commonly referred to as Equation), SputnikMusic said:

“Imagine giving a monkey some crack, and putting him in a room full of buttons where every button makes a different sound. That’s sort of what this sounds like, except with a beat behind it.”

Oddly, I mention this piece of music less because of how it sounds, and more because of how it looks. When played through a spectrogram this track shows some very interesting shapes, most notably, the composers own face! It would seem that Richard used a piece of software called metasynth to transform the data from an image, and insert it into the end of the track. I find this to be a strange kind of sonification because it’s sound doesn’t relate to how we view an image. When we usually see an image, we see it’s entirety in one instant. In the case of this sonification we are exposed to the image across it’s horizontal axis over a duration of time. This means that the cleverness of the sonification only becomes apparent to us if we visualize it through a spectrogram. So although this is interesting, it doesn’t really sound pleasant, and so it’s effectiveness as sonification is arguable.