Bowie’s Mood Music

Bowie’s Mood Music

Victoria & Albert Museum,
London UK
26.04.2013

Alexis Kirke and Martyn Ware discover compelling patterns through computer analysis of Bowie’s lyrics, album sales and music features, presenting musical “sonifications” of their results as compositions. Part of V&A’s Bowie Friday Late, 18:30-22:00, 26th April 2013.

Plymouth University composer / research fellow Alexis Kirke and sound-artist / electronic music pioneer Martyn Ware, have discovered compelling patterns in numerical data from Bowie’s career; including song keys, computer lyric analysis results and album sales figures. Using “sonification” – the audio display of non-sound-data – they are able tohighlight the patterns. They will be playing their new sonification tunes, and explaining what this statistical music tells us about Bowie’s career.

Sonification is the audio-display of non-audio data. The most common forms are Geiger counters, and heart rate monitors. It has also been used to make patterns discernible in complex data – for example stock market data, or chemical structures have been turned into music to highlight their patterns. In this presentation, Alexis Kirke and Martyn Ware use sonification of David Bowie’s career data to help to make certain patterns in his career more “perceivable”.

To prepare data for sonification Alexis and Martyn have used statistical analyses of such things as the changes emotional content of David Bowies lyrics over the years, or the prominence of major and minor keys in Bowie songs. Other elements incorporated include album sales data. These are then mapped onto musical features such as tempo, pitch and loudness and turned into new musical compositions themselves, in an effort the make the progressions of Bowie’s artistic mood and commercial impact more understandable.

Sitting somewhere between music and statistical art, these Bowie career-sonifications are both entertaining and informative. Alexis and Martyn will be on hand to discuss and explain their analyses and composition process.

The Bowie Career-sonification is part of “David Bowie is making a scene”, a Friday Late at the Victoria and Albert Museum, celebrating their critically acclaimed and record breaking exhibition “David Bowie is”, 23 March – 11 August 2013. The V&A has been given unprecedented access to the David Bowie Archive to curate the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie.

Alexis Kirke is composer-in-residence for the Plymouth Marine Institute. Alexis has completed two PhDs, one in Arts and one in Technology. He is a member of the University of Plymouth's Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research and is best known for his stock market reality opera ‘Open Outcry’, and his live action algorithmic bio-film ‘many worlds’.