An Intro to TwoTone
By Hugh McGrory, Co-founder and CEO, Datavized Technologies, Inc.
TwoTone lets you turn data into sound and music. It uses the process of sonification to let you hear data. It’s free and open-source and runs 100% on the web, so you don’t need to download anything. TwoTone works on desktops, tablets and phones. It’s designed to be fast, fun and easy to use. TwoTone is imagined by Datavized with support from Google News Initiative.
What is TwoTone for?
There are two areas where TwoTone adds value:
- Understanding Data — Music is math. TwoTone uses a technique called “sonification”. This just means that it turns data into sound. We didn’t invent this concept, it’s been around for a while already. Our intention is to make it more accessible as a web app. If understanding the data is your goal, you may want to keep things simple and resist the urge to make too many layers or add too many effects.
- Making Music — Get creative. TwoTone is a fun and intuitive way to make your own compositions, without any prior musical or technical knowledge. The algorithm makes an audio track from one column of your data automatically and you can change the instrument, add more columns, and experiment from there until you have made something that interests you. Music you make can be exported for use in creative projects.
- Data — Turning data into sound has advantages. Just like in the cinema, sound adds another layer to understanding. Sound does not require you to look at a screen. You could be anywhere in a room and hear the differences in the output. It can be used by itself or as a complement to visual systems. The representation of the data is as “true” as a visual rendering and any anomalies can be heard, identified and acted upon. It also has potential uses for people who are visually impaired.
- Music — Being able to make your own music is empowering. Here at the Datavized office, we’re listening to things we’ve made ourselves and they sound pretty good. Good enough to be used as background music for a podcast or video or whatever else could be made more interesting with an original soundtrack. It’s great to add a new thing to your skill set. And talented musicians and composers who have used it love it too because it adds a randomness that sparks new ideas.
Here’s some examples (visit TwoTone.io to learn more)
Datavized collaborated with Basque Country EUSTAT to create a sonification with TwoTone using Basque Country EUSTAT ‘Use of Time’ data from survey data collected in 2013.
About the Data
Listen to the Data
Watch the Playthrough
Watch the Tutorial
Remix the Project
This example features a sonification of the U.S. debt to GDP ratio, yearly from 1949–2028. The data used is from the Congressional Budget Office Budget & Economic Outlook Report published January 28, 2019.
Listen to the Data
Watch the Playthrough
View more examples at TwoTone.io/examples
How can your organization benefit?
TwoTone is designed to be seamlessly integrated into the workflow of a newsroom and used either as a standalone tool for publishing sonification on the web or as a soundtrack builder for multimedia projects. The tool is fully customizable to enable creators to map any data input to the desired audio output.
What kind of data can I use?
TwoTone will handle files up to 20MB in size and 2,000 rows of data. Formats supported are: .xls, .xlsx, .csv, .ods. Drag and Drop files into the browser window. Remember that your output will only be as good as your input, so please take time to check your spreadsheet for errors or unnecessary text fields. Also make sure that you are uploading an actual spreadsheet and not a PDF since a PDF will not be readable.
Text to Speech
Twotone uses Google’s Text-To-Speech API so that a creator can type a title for their piece and have it read in a male or female voice in different languages. This audio is placed before the music starts to give context to the listener. You can turn it on or off. Being pedantic, this means that Twotone can’t really be described as ‘sonification’ since that word refers to “the use of non-speech audio to convey information or perceptualize data”.
How does it work?
1. Get Data
Select a Data set from one of our samples or Upload one of your own by simply dragging it in.
2. Audio Track
TwoTone will automatically generate an audio track from your data set. You can change your track’s data source or instrument.
3. Play Audio
Click the Play button to hear the sound generated from your data.
4. Speak Title
Enter a Title to automatically generate text-to-speech, toggle to turn speech on or off. Customize settings for language, gender and voice options.
5. Add Audio Track
Generate another audio track automatically from your data set or upload an audio track of your own.
6. Adjust Duration
Adjust your total duration, row duration, and tempo (BPM) to speed up or slow down your composition.
7. Advanced Features
Adjust the volume of your audio track, filter it by data columns or by value, change the key of your musical scale, or adjust octave, scale range and tempo to create an arpeggio.
8. Export Audio
Export your project to an audio file in MP3 or Waveform (PCM) format
MP3 Bit Rate export options are 64 kbps, 128 kbps,, 192 kbps, and 320 kbps.
The inspiration for Twotone came from a 2016 TED talk by Wanda Diaz Merced “How A Blind Astronomer Found A Way To Hear The Stars”.
We developed early ideas for Twotone while we were building Morph. Brainstorms with computer artist and generative composer Glenn Marshall led us to examine some techniques that had been used in the past, like the musical dice games. Here’s a description from Wikipedia:
“A Musikalisches Würfelspiel (German for “musical dice game”) was a system for using dice to randomly ‘generate’ music from precomposed options. These ‘games’ were quite popular throughout Western Europe in the 18th century. Several different games were devised, some that did not require dice, but merely ‘choosing a random number.’The earliest example is Johann Philipp Kirnberger’s Der allezeit fertige Menuetten- und Polonaisencomponist (German for “The Ever-Ready Minuet and Polonaise Composer”) (1757 [1st edition; revised 2nd 1783]). Examples by well known composers include C. P. E. Bach’s Einfall, einen doppelten Contrapunct in der Octave von sechs Tacten zu machen, ohne die Regeln davon zu wissen (German for “A method for making six bars of double counterpoint at the octave without knowing the rules”) (1758) and Maximilian Stadler’s Table pour composer des minuets et des Trios à la infinie; avec deux dez à jouer (French for “A table for composing minuets and trios to infinity, by playing with two dice”) (1780).”
As conversations continued, we brought in the composer and WebXR creator Jeff McSpadden who added new elements to the mix, like the Mayan Number System.
A lot of these ideas and techniques did not make it into the finished version but it was fun and challenging to try things out along the way. One of the things that we did get working but chose not to include, since it was too complex for the beginner, was granular synthesis. Here’s a description from Wikipedia:
“Granular synthesis is a basic sound synthesis method that operates on the microsound time scale.
It is based on the same principle as sampling. However, the samples are not played back conventionally, but are instead split into small pieces of around 1 to 50 ms. These small pieces are called grains. Multiple grains may be layered on top of each other, and may play at different speeds, phases, volume, and frequency, among other parameters.
At low speeds of playback, the result is a kind of soundscape, often described as a cloud, that is manipulatable in a manner unlike that for natural sound sampling or other synthesis techniques. At high speeds, the result is heard as a note or notes of a novel timbre. By varying the waveform, envelope, duration, spatial position, and density of the grains, many different sounds can be produced.”
Here is an early test that Glenn made to demonstrate the technique using a clip from the film Koyaanisqatsi with the fluctuations in a data set remixing the soundtrack. You can easily hear the difference in the underlying audio:
Here’s the ‘before’. This is just the regular movie as it was released –
Here’s the ‘after’. Note the data set onscreen and the graph –
TwoTone was the name of an English music genre in the 1970s. Commonwealth citizens arrived with ska and reggae music which was adopted by white working class youth and mixed together into an inclusive musical expression. From Wikipedia: “Two-tone (or 2 tone) is a genre of British music that fuses traditional ska with musical elements of punk rock.Its name comes from 2 Tone Records, a label founded by Jerry Dammers of The Specials,and references a desire to transcend and defuse racial tensions in Thatcher-era Britain”
Hugh McGrory, CEO/Co-founder at Datavized, TwoTone Project Lead
Debra Anderson, CSO/Co-founder at Datavized, TwoTone Project Manager
Brian Chirls, CTO/Co-founder at Datavized, TwoTone Lead Technologist
Alberto Cairo, Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the School of Communication of the University of Miami, Project Mentor
Simon Rogers, Data Editor, Google News Lab, Google News Initiative, Project Commissioner
Glenn Marshall & Jeff McSpadden, Music Advisors
TwoTone is a free and open-source data sonification tool that turns data from spreadsheets into sound and music. TwoTone is web app made by Datavized Technologies with support from Google News Initiative. https://twotone.io
Originally published at datavized.com on March 5, 2019.