Animating Watling Street

In a previous post I shared with you the first stab at using Brian Foo’s ‘Two Trains’. That experiment was mostly so that I understood what the code was doing. In the version I’m sharing below, I’ve got better data: counts of inscriptions at points mentioned in the second antonine itinerary, ie, watling street-ish, and counts of inscriptions for the surrounding county as a whole (from romaninscriptionsofbritain.org). The difference in those two numbers is the fodder for Foo’s algorithmn for selecting instruments, pitch, tempo, etc.

I will write more eventually about what these choices do for the sonification, and what they imply as a means of ‘visualizing’ Roman Britain. (Right now, I’m working with instruments that Foo selected for his piece, albeit more of the percussion instruments and a few of the woodwinds; up to now all recreations of Roman instruments I’ve found are gawdawful. So, by selecting these few instruments, at least I’ve got a bit of sound that might’ve made sense to a Roman. Fodder for reflection on this point.)

Foo also provides a processing script that grabs the latitude and longitude for each stop along the way, scaling appropriately to match the changes in the music. It’s quite clever – procedurally generated music matched by a procedurally generated visualization. I also like that this movement along a line is much closer to Roman conceptions of space – a sequence of what comes next, ie, an itinerary – rather than a top-down birds-eye view. Now, Foo also provides code to generate that kind of view, too, and I’ll probably play with that, just to see. But I don’t think it’ll make it into the final version of this project.

Listening to Watling Street

I greatly admire the work of Brian Foo, the ‘Data Driven DJ‘. His ‘Two Trains: A Sonification of Income Inequality on the NYC Subway’ uses data on incomes around the stops on the subway as fodder for an algorithmically generated sound scape that captures (to my mind; I’ve never been to NY) the dynamics of that city. Brian released all of his code and data on Github, and I’ve been playing around with it.

I’ve got big plans.

But I thought you’d enjoy, to start with, my first experiment, which is a sonification of the epigraphic density of Watling Street (also known as Route II of the Antonine Itinerary in Roman Britain). My data is extremely rough (mere counts of inscriptions per town), as I was just trying to understand in the first place how the scripts work. (I’ve got big plans for all of this, as I said). I’ve found a bit of a marching beat; when the song really picks up we’re at the big centres like Eboracum (York), Verulamium (St Albans), Londinium. The script is set for 100 BPM, with 3000 m per beat (the script takes the longitude and latitude for each place and figures out the distance between each one in the sequence, to work out the length etc of the song).

It’s pretty catchy. Hope you enjoy; I’m excited to play with these scripts some more. Thank you Data Driven Dj Brian Foo!

(See the continuation of this experiment here)