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Reiko Yamada

composer & sound artist

Wall of Whispers (work-in-progress)

Sonifying the 2020 responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. 
Collaborative project with Nokia Bell Labs in Cambridge
supported by ICFO

A group of researchers from Nokia Bell Labs in Cambridge analyzed 122 million tweets from January through December 2020, finding that Americans were going through a string of emotions ( The emotions were "collective disorientation," or inability to determine the importance of a new disease; fear and paranoia that turns everything into a potential vector of the disease; and taking action or choosing how to respond to the disease, which often involves moralizing of certain groups. The researchers also found that three specific phases emerged continuously throughout the time period: refusal, anger and acceptance. When it first began, people refused to believe the pandemic was real. Then people became angry when the first Americans died from the virus and restrictions were put in place. As time went on, anger slowly faded into acceptance but still recurred and spiked with each wave of cases. 


We propose to capture these changes on the use of language on Twitter using sonification techniques. We will be using the recorded voices of real people who tweeted as the sound source, which will be digitally processed and spatialized to collectively convey the three cyclical phases of refusal, anger, and acceptance that were evident during 2020. The resulting sound installation will be a combination of audible thoughts and concerns of people with slowly evolving sound clouds in the background representing complex and ever-changing emotions expressed on social media.  

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