Slow the Smoke
Miriam accessed the data from the Citizen Scientists’ low-cost air quality sensors via the Open Data Bristol portal. She used this along with data gathered by Bristol City Council, to create the music track.
Miriam used the data on one kind of pollutant called particulate matter (PM10) from the 14 different sensors in Ashley Ward, over the course of the year (August 2021 to 2022). She took the average reading across all sensors and then the average by month – reducing hundreds of thousands of datapoints to just 12. This revealed that, on the whole, particulate levels are higher in the winter months.
What Miriam observed was that air quality deteriorates in the winter in Ashley Ward and improves in the summer. This correlates with how people behave when it’s cold outside, with more people driving their cars and lighting their wood burners. Also, cold air sinks and traps air pollution near to the ground, especially when there’s little wind (as in January and March 2022).
During a preceding workshop with families in St. Paul’s, KWMC captured people’s lived experiences of air pollution locally. The music track aimed to elevate the voices of the people living in St. Paul’s, while communicating the air quality data.
There are two main layers to the sonification:
Firstly, there’s an unpleasant drone sound that gets louder and harsher as the air gets dirtier in the winter. When air quality gets really bad in the winter, it’s as though the drone is drowning people out and stopping them from living their lives. Which is exactly what air pollution does, even at low concentrations: it makes us sick and stops us living our lives to the full.
Meanwhile, a dub track plays at the same time as the drone. It responds to the data in the opposite way, getting quieter when levels are higher. This music track represents the people living in Bristol. It includes voices of different members of the local community of St Pauls, which were recorded during a data-sonification workshop.
Add image of the children recording their voices here.
T. Relly added the main vocals and wrote the lyrics, providing a human dimension to the data.
The track was followed by a Q&A with both artists Miriam Quick and T. Relly, which has been turned into a podcast.
The track was then officially released with an accompanying video in March 2023.
Official music video for ‘Bristol Burning’ filmed and edited by Rosana Warshawski and Esme Rose Warren.
The track was well received, however because of the acoustics in the venue, some of the lyrics got lost as the track is very reliant on a good bass speaker. This track has now been remastered and a music video for the track commissioned to support an awareness campaign in the Ashley ward in Spring 2023.