Bristol Burning by Miriam Quick

In the city of Bristol, in the southwest of England, up to 260 people a year die as a result of air pollution. That’s 5 people a week. Most of these deaths are caused by particulates released by traffic and fuel burning – even tiny amounts are dangerous for health. Poorer people, who tend to live in more polluted areas, are more likely to suffer health consequences.

What if you could hear how polluted the air is? Would people take the problem seriously?

Bristol Burning is a dub-influenced music track that transforms a year of city air into sound using data sonification. The music represents the people of Bristol and features vocals by hip-hop artist T. Relly and samples of local community members. Layered over the music is an unsettling drone noise, which represents the dangerous pollution local people breathe in. A volume and filter on the drone are mapped to monthly average particulate (PM10) level data.

The drone tells the story of a year of air quality changes. When the air gets dirtier in winter, it gets louder, almost drowning out the music, as though the whole community is being enveloped and stifled by clouds of smoke. In spring, the air gets cleaner again and you hear the music loud and clear once more.

Bristol Burning was created by UK artist Miriam Quick of data sonification studio Loud Numbers, and commissioned by Bristol-based Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC). The sonification layer was made using data from local citizen scientists who collected air quality readings using sensors mounted on their houses as part of KWMC’s Slow the Smoke project. By making environmental data dancefloor friendly, it aims to engage policymakers and local communities with the air pollution issue to bring about action.