2014: An Interactive Year In New Music

Since the turn of the decade, I have dedicated myself each year to tracking and analyzing my personal data as it relates to various aspects of my music listening and discovery habits. Each year focuses on a different set of data to uncover hidden patterns in my habits and musical taste. Over the years I have explored my conversations about music, who are the key influencers in discovering new music, first impressions of an album and artist, and the context around my listening. The result of these studies has historically been a printed report visualizing the data collected for the year.

Printed copies of the Year In New Music series

This year, in addition to a printed report, I collaborated with a friend and colleague to make an interactive component. I’ve had an ongoing interest in experiencing data using different senses beyond vision. This was a chance to put some of that to the test.

The interactive piece wasn’t planned as part of the original output of the year’s recap. It wasn’t until the end of 2014, when Jarrett Webb asked me, as he thumbed through one of the reports, “have you ever thought of making these interactive?” Indeed I had. Many times before. But I avoided too much exploration because I didn’t want to make something digital. The printed version always had a sense of permanence and importance to it that I tought would be lost if I went digital. However, I was open to the idea if we could figure out a way to keep the benefits of print and add in interactivity.

With those requirements in mind, Jarrett suggested we try using capacitive ink. That is ink, or paint, that behaves like a touch screen device. Using a Touch Board we could also get sound to work and add music as an output of the interactions. The idea had traction and so we sketched out some concepts that we could try and implement. Jarrett dug in deeper with the technology and I went head first into the data. After a few months of slow and steady progress, we emerged with a working prototype.

Three canvases from left to right represent: Time of Day of Discovery, Year of Song Recording, Day of Week of Discovery

The three panels each represent a different dimension on a set of songs that were particularly influential on my life over the year. They ranged from new music I had never heard before to old classics that reemerged to songs I just couldn’t get out of my head. Each panel stands alone as a visualization of each dimension: Time of Day of Discovery, Year of Song Recording, Day of Week of Discovery. The visualizations show that I am most active in the afternoons, on Tuesdays, and with new music.

“Have you ever thought of making these interactive?”
Viewers can interact with the data represented in the piece by touching two points on different canvases. The demonstration here is “Wednesday” and “2014”.

The interactivity comes by touching a circle on two different panels. With this simple interaction, a query is performed on the data and a song is played that matches the criteria set forth by the touches. For example, touching on “Wednesday” and “2014” would play Texas Reznikoff by the band Mitski because it was discovered on a Wednesday and it was recorded and released in 2014.

This is what it is like to interact with the canvases
Physically and sonically searching for patterns in the data set.

Our hope was that the interactions, mixed with the audio from the songs, would be both a compelling experience and a pathway to exposing new patterns. One trend that emerged was an affinity for mellow music towards the end of the week and late in the evenings. Another was that the older music I was drawn to had more of a western sound to it while the newer music was more ethereal and electronic sounding.

I probably could have told anyone that this pattern exists within my musical tastes. The fact that we were able to expose them in the data, and that I was able to recognize myself in it, meant that it passed the test of being useful as a tool for exploration. With more time, there are surely additional patterns and stories hidden in the data that couldn’t be found without the combination of the visual, physical, and auditory elements of the piece.

A note on the inspiration behind the aesthetic of the piece.

Triptychs have long been used for their ease of installation. This was no exception. The paintings of Richard Serra were visual inspiration for their starkness. We also wanted to stay true to the materials: deep black capacitive ink and stark white canvas.