PrezTech Challenge: Transforming Environmental Data into Music

Created: January 2, 2020
Last Updated: February 3, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Jan. 2, 2020)—Elements of Southwestern Pennsylvania nature became music compositions this fall, with the help of technology and a class of creative Washington & Jefferson (W&J) students.

Students in Professor of Music Mark Swift’s “Music and the Natural Environment” class gathered water quality data from Mingo Creek in Mingo Creek County Park and cleaned trash from a section of Catfish Creek near Cameron Stadium for World Water Monitoring Day in September. Later, working in groups, the students decided what statement they wanted to make about the environment and created their compositions.

The songs students created included sounds they recorded from the creek and sounds they made using the items they took from the creek during clean-up. The groups then used GarageBand to isolate and manipulate their recorded sounds and combine them with loops built in to the software to create their music.

“I really enjoyed learning about the connection between music and the environment,” Ian Geister ’20 said. “It gave us the opportunity to share what we think about our environment in the most expressive way possible, and it was a really cool opportunity to get our creative juices flowing and participate in environmental advocacy.”

As part of the project, students also were challenged to creatively use the data they gathered from Mingo Creek to flesh out their pieces. Some students chose to use pH measurements to inform the number of beats in a phrase, oxygen levels to select a time signature, and turbidity levels to signal a pause in their composition, among other measurements.

Being able to not only create something, but actively participate in environmental cleanup and giving a voice to issues through music was important to the students.

“I felt like I was personally contributing to the community,” Garret Hampton ’22 said. “It was really to remove trash and find a way to repurpose it into something new.”

This project was a part of Washington & Jefferson College’s PrezTech Challenge, which challenges faculty members at W&J to create student projects that showcase innovative uses of educational technology and/or information literacy in the classroom.

Read more PrezTech Challenge Stories:

Recreating the Past: History of W&J in Photographs

Poetry in the Digital Age

Exploring Folklore Through Podcasting 

Podcasting the Cultural Edge

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