The City Suite: 4 Small Pieces

Some nice (and humbling) context

The City Suite: 4 Small Pieces is an experiment in data sonification, relying on the immersive and evocative nature of sound to interpret four different San Francisco-specific datasets.  Equal parts abstract composition and study in auditory perception, this piece uses sound so listeners can be immersed in the time and space of the incoming information differently than they would be with a visual representation.

This piece was a re-imagination and further development of Good Fences Make Good Neighborhoods, commissioned by SPUR for the Sound and the City Festival in 2015.

The work was presented over a 12-channel array arranged in the shape of San Francisco, and the sonic information was delivered spatially according to the neighborhood it addressed.  The tracks embedded here are binaural, which will give some impression of the spatial components of the installation.

City Suite Installed at SPUR
City Suite Installed at SPUR (12-channel loudspeaker array located behind map of SF)


Large-scale development is a constant feature of life in downtown San Francisco today, but that hasn’t always been true, and still isn’t the case in many parts of the city. San Francisco’s development pipeline serves as a barometer of medium to long-term development trends, illustrating the location and scale of current and proposed future construction in the city. For this movement, the city is divided into four sections. In the northeast section of the city, where large-scale development is densest, the number of projects can be heard in the speed of the pulse. Because our data runs from 2007 to the present, the drastic change in economic climate can be clearly heard as the city slips into, then catapults out of, recession. In the rest of the city, each project is announced by a single tone, which illustrated the spread of major development throughout the city.  The years the data represents are indicated in the comments of the embedded track.

Dataset: Buildings in construction over 10 net housing units or 10,000 net ft2

Source: Development Pipeline Report, City + County of San Francisco

Planning Department


In this movement, the tides can be heard entering and leaving San Francisco Bay at the seven NOAA monitoring stations closest to San Francisco’s coastline. The time of high and low tide at each station is punctuated by a plucked sound. The frequency (pitch) of the sound illustrates the depth of the water at each point. Additionally, water temperature at three locations is represented by a low roar. As water temperatures rise, this roar becomes more intense. With the ocean on one side and the bay on the other, the water temperatures surrounding SF may have quite a range even on the same day.

Dataset: Time + Depth of High/Low Tide; Water Temperature

Timescale: October 1 – October 31, 2015

Source: NOAA


Over the last several years, San Francisco has lost a number of local music and arts venues. This is symptomatic of a shift in building use as neighborhood demographics change. In this movement, music plays at the location of each closed venue before fading into the sounds of the city.  The Venues are noted in the comments of the embedded track.


Wind is one of the defining characteristics of life in San Francisco. With the city’s extreme topography and surrounding waters, wind currents contribute to the microclimate of each neighborhood. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) monitors these conditions across the city. We have chosen four stations for this sonification, one in each quadrant of the map. Wind speed at each location is represented by musical texture. The gentlest winds (0-5 mph) are depicted using long, slow tones and as the wind speed increases, the music at that location becomes more active, distorted and higher pitched. You can also hear patterns of day and night, as well as fog and cloud cover as the sounds are filtered based on the amount of sunlight at that location.

Dataset: Wind Velocity; Solar Irradiance

Timescale: January 1, 2015-August 31, 2015

Source: SFPUC Wind Monitoring Data