This activity guides groups of students through a brief study of the history and construction of either a didgeridoo, the world’s oldest wind instrument, or a paixiao, a chinese pan flute. Students will work with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe and PVC-cutting tools to design and create a playable musical instrument which will be used by students to compose a custom song related to climate data such as atmospheric CO\(_{2}\) concentration or global temperature anomalies. In this way, the sonification of climate data will be accomplished with a student musical chorus. The activity will conclude with a group jam session with participants invited to provide percussion for the wind section. An attempt will be made to have expert musicians join the program via teleconference as a guest speaker to provide instruction and background information.

0.1 Author Statement on Activity Origins

To tell the story of how this lesson came into existence, I need to mention that it was built from prior working relationships and my interests in music and data visualization. My background is in science, interactive computer graphics, 3D media, video, and K-12 STEAM outreach. I met some interesting people in my career and this lesson brings some of that experience and exposure together in what I hope is an interesting, fun way.

This activity began as an idea around the theme of air and is based in part on a past professional collaboration I had with a local musician and contemporary flamenco band. I worked in a role combining teacher professional development and creative curriculum development which included some work on documentary-style videos. Through that experience I became familiar with the music of this local band and specifically the use of the didgeridoo by one of the band members. The sound was really interesting to me and I knew something of the relationship of didgeridoo morphology and sound quality from a video I produced with this band member. That’s one inspiration: didgeridoo music! We later decided to add in the paixiao, a type of pan flute, to help boost engagement and regional connections. The paixiao is also a relatively simple instrument that can be constructed from PVC and inexpensive materials. Together we thought these could yield some very interesting sounds!

What I wanted from this activity was hands-on construction, incorporation of data or data visualization, and musical performance. I knew that the didgeridoo was a relatively simple instrument (basically a tube) and that it could be easily and inexpensively constructed from PVC. I also knew that NASA produced high-quality climate data and worked to make this information available to the public. I thought perhaps students could look at the data or even just the visualizations of data to get some ideas about trends in climate. Perhaps they could study carbon dioxide or temperature levels. That’s a second inspiration: climate data visualization. This is something that could help students with scientific literacy but also to see themselves in the world by examining large, important trends.

A third inspiration for this lesson was the concept of data sonification. A former colleague and friend is a geologist and musician who is interested in transforming data into sound. This concept is similar to visualization, but for hearing instead of seeing. I thought maybe the students could take what they know about climate data and make a song or something similar from that knowledge.

After meeting with a small group to “play-test” the activity, we decided it was important to have the student build some kind of simple notation system for their instruments. There would be no pressure to make it “right” but rather to have students be creative and write something that makes sense for their team and perhaps others to read and use to play a song. This is a good addition because it focuses a bit on literacy, logic, and music at the same time.

The big concept for me is Data->Inspiration->Construction->Notation->Performance. I am hopeful students will look at their world in a fresh way, become inspired to tell a story through music, and then bring this concept to life through the use of their own hands and minds. If all goes well, the audience will learn something about climate and the students will learn something about themselves.

Adam Santone, PhD