Sonification of Tourettes


On monday, a piece of music that I helped to create will feature within a talk by Jess Thom at TEDxAlbertopolis at the Royal Albert Hall. Jess will be presenting to a 4000 strong audience about Tourettes Hero, a wonderful project that she set up to raise awareness of Tourettes by celebrating and sharing its creativity and humour.

The piece of music is a sonification of data that Jess has carefully collected on short (sometimes long) periods of intense ticcing episodes that she experiences on a daily basis. During these ‘ticcing fits’ every part of Jess’s body may move, shake, contort or lock into painful positions. The well documented data represents a great deal of discomfort for Jess, and in the spirit of Tourettes Hero, she asked whether it would be possible for me to convert a year of this data into a piece of music, to transform it into something beautiful.

Sonification is the use of non-speech audio to convey information, and for this particular project the priority was to create a piece of music that was derived exclusively from the data that Jess had shared with me. Working closely with Professor Jo Hyde from Bath Spa University, we developed specialised software and carefully designed sounds to sonify the fits, producing a composition that forms a true representation of the original data: the time structure is accurately preserved and the chosen sounds and their processing communicate the duration, location and intensity of each fit. It’s been a fantastic project to work on and I am really looking forward to developing the piece further in future.

Jess’s talk will be streamed live from the TEDxAlbertopolis website at approximately 15.45 on Monday 23rd September.