Twitter is named for bird song — so what would happen if you turned tweets into music? That’s the question explored by Social Vibes, a musical installation that analyzes real-time social media content and translates Twitter users’ emotions into musical notes. It was created by Cian McLysaght, a master’s student of interactive media at the University of Limerick, Ireland, starting in 2013.
The Vibe is essentially a custom-built vibraphone — a mahogany frame holding a collection of aluminum keys, copper resonating tubes and motorized valves and strikers. It’s all controlled with an Arduino running a sketch written in the programming language Processing.
As tweets come in through the global stream, the instrument looks for emotional keywords: anger, anxiety, desire, despair, fear, hate, hope, happiness, love, sadness, shame and surprise. Each one is mapped to a specific note across four octaves, which allows groups of similar emotions to occupy an appropriate part of the scale with plenty of dynamism between the unpleasant lows, the appealing mid-range, and the intense highs. The faster the tweets roll in, the more quickly the notes are struck.
Mostly the Vibe sounds like a wind chime ringing randomly in the digital breeze, but Twitter users can send direct tweets to @vibe_experiment to have it play their own emotional compositions.
Like many other connected art installations, Social Vibes makes tangible an aspect of the digital infrastructure and content that flows around us at all times, unseen but influential. It also plays with the concept of emotional expression in music. Usually emotion flows intentionally from the artist into the composition and performance, which in turn stirs the emotions of the listener. Here, the people whose emotions inform the composition are largely unaware of their contribution, and listeners can be active participants in shaping the emotional-musical interaction.
Social Vibes was exhibited in spring 2015 in Dublin and Galway City. Visit the project blog to learn how the instrument was built, and experience it for yourself in the video below.
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