Elegy for George Floyd

Today is the funeral of George Floyd, the man murdered by police in Minneapolis. Since his death, other instances of police brutality as the police riot have been collated in various places; one reckoning has over 400 instances (link here, kept by Greg Doucette, and just the ones that have been shared on Twitter!).

We – Andrew Reinhard and myself – wanted to honour George Floyd, and so we composed ‘Elegy for George Floyd’, a data composition built from sonifying the data in that spreadsheet and then remixing the results.

As you listen, you will hear a trumpet (police siren / police action) that waxes and wanes with the brutality of the action recorded. The reports for each incident were loaded into Voyant-Tools, where they were reorganized by the most common terms. Each word was then replaced in the report by its count; then all of the scores for each report were added up. This index value was then mapped against four octaves in D# minor, a key that invokes “…Feelings of the anxiety of the soul’s deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depresssion, of the most gloomy condition of the soul. Every fear, every hesitation of the shuddering heart, breathes out of horrible D# minor. If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key. ” (source). These reports are scored into the music twice – one voice in whole notes, a second voice in arpeggiated chords to reflect the sirens and chaos of the police brutality

Each city’s latitude and longitude and the cumulative report number were converted into chords and baseline.

The resulting sonification was then remixed, with an 808 bass line added. T808 runs throughout the entire song, the heartbeat of George Floyd that abruptly stops at 8:46. It contrasts with the intrusive double-bass of the police line generated in the original sonification. The crescendos of all of the data tracks reflect clashes with the police. Towards the end of the song, there are instances (and then a full minute) of tracks playing backwards, which reflects how upside-down things have become.

The remixed piece is at 90 bpm which we feel adds to the gravitas of the work; it is unsettling and sad, but yet, even now, contains beauty and hope.

With respect, we offer this piece in that spirit.

Our original tracks are available at https://github.com/shawngraham/elegy-for-George-Floyd. We invite you to remix and recompose your own version.

We are uploading the piece to itunes, and any monies it might earn will be donated to #blm.