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Listening to the Dow

By Lynne Raughley

Justin Joque, Spatial and Numeric Data Services Librarian at the University of Michigan Library, frequently works with U-M researchers in various fields to collect and render data in ways that illuminate their studies. Data visualization—that is, transforming numeric information into graphical form—can make complex information more readily understandable, and can lead to new insights and knowledge.

Joque notes that while scientists are increasingly interested in mapping data onto other media in the hope of revealing patterns that are otherwise invisible, artists are increasingly seeking out data sources, either for material or inspiration.

Recently, he became interested in data sonification—that is, rendering numeric information into sound waves—and wondered what it might be capable of revealing, as both research and art.

With no musical background, Joque decided to keep it simple. He used an open source programming language and environment called Processing, and created two sine waves that range from 20-800 herz. One of the waves maps to the daily changes in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the other to the daily number of trades, from the late 1920s to early 2011 (data he obtained from Yahoo).

“The period after the Great Depression through the 1960s is somewhat tedious,” Joque says. “But I think it’s worth listening to in order to hear the advent of high frequency trading.”

Asked when that happened, Joque smiles. “Just listen,” he says. “You’ll hear it.