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2019 Gannett Foundation Award for Technical Innovation in the Service of Digital Journalism finalist

TwoTone

About the Project

The entire field of data visualization is limited by “visualization” itself – being totally reliant on the sense of sight to make sense out of information, usually presented in the form of charts and graphs. But this is not the only option – music is math. Data is ones and zeros and these ones and zeros can also be turned into sound, without compromising the ability to understand meaning. Data visualization can be likened to the fold-out map that everyone used to bring with them on long car journeys, before we started using GPS – a sonification system that gives the same information delivered as audio. And purely visual systems are also not accessible for users who are blind or low vision.

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 built by Datavized with support from Google News Initiative.

Advantages

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.

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.

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”. In this talk Wanda describes how she lost her sight and was able to continue to work at the same level as other professionals in her field by listening to the data instead.