Data analysis is not always the most interesting thing in the world, but Nilam Ram and his team of analysts changed that in the Bio Behavioral Health building last night when he put data to music.
Ram, a quantitative psychologist in training, attempted to recreate the way people understand data through the improvisational percussion of musicians Robyn Schulkowsky and Joey Baron.
“I met Robyn and Joey six years or so ago and we would sit and talk about what each other did, and found often that there were these connections,” Ram said. “We thought well some day we should explore what these connections are.”
Ram and his team gathered several examples of behavioral data to use in their depictions. Some studied infants going through inoculation, while others focused on the behavior of a child trying to open a locked box.
The team of analysts was looking for other ways to represent this data, while the musicians were looking for some new material, Ram said.
“The performance was sort of a culmination of four days of workshops where we brought students, faculty, artists and musicians together and we didn’t know what was really going to come out of it,’ Ram said. “Our idea for the performance was that we wanted people to open up their ears and listen to the world a little bit differently or listen to their data a little bit differently.”
The audience became involved at one point when each person made noise with different objects to represent different parts of the human lifetime such as birth, school, marriage and death. The objective was to give people a new perspective on how they hear sounds everyday, Ram said.
“Hopefully when you walk out the door and when you’re walking down he street, you hear a different sound and you say ‘does that represent data or is that music?’” Ram said.
The performance featured a vast percussion set including timpani drums, a standard drum kit, bongos, congas, toms, cymbals and gongs of all shapes and sizes.
Each piece held seemingly sporadic and jumbled slams and bangs, but that s not the case, Schulkowsky said.
“Some things we used a stopwatch,” Schulkowsky said. “Interestingly enough, a couple of the studies were in real time.”
The drumming duo used visualizations of the studies to know when to hit each drum. The graphs and pictures of the studies became written rhythms for the two musicians Baron said.
“Each of these sounds represents an activity. Some things represent static or emotions, things like that.” Baron said. “While it looks kind of crazy, this is our music score and everyone is different.”
Several students and staff packed the auditorium to explore the finished product. The show ended with an improvisation from Baron and Schulkosky who then received a standing ovation for their performance.