DiscoverLoud NumbersA Symphony of Bureaucracy
A Symphony of Bureaucracy

A Symphony of Bureaucracy

Update: 2021-07-19


The European Union is a truly unique political entity, and an economic, diplomatic, and cultural superpower. Perhaps the EU’s greatest achievement is that all this has been done through democratic lawmaking - not through armed force.

That lawmaking results in a lot of paperwork, and it’s this glorious bureaucracy that we wanted to celebrate when we came up with the idea to do a Loud Numbers episode on the EU, in the same year that our home country, Britain, left.

In this sonification, we took a database of all the laws ever passed by the EU and its precursors - a whopping 142,036 of them, from 1952 to 2019 - and created a piece of classical music that reflects the amount of lawmaking going on over time.

We turned the data into a fugue - a musical form where two or more melodic lines, or ‘voices’, interweave around each other based on strict rules. Each line begins with a short, specific string of notes, known as a subject. This subject is then repeated in every subsequent voice as it comes in, often in different keys, or sometimes even turned upside down.

There’s only one encoding - the number of laws made each year, which is mapped to the number of voices. Two bars of music equals one year of data. When there are only a few laws being made that year, there are only one or two voices. When there are a lot of laws, there are a lot of melodies – up to eight at once. It’s a simple mapping, but the result is far from simple.

And the subject of the fugue? You’ll recognise it as the first part of the European Anthem - Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, as arranged by Wendy Carlos in the soundtrack of Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”. Our choice of retro synth sounds is a nod to Carlos.


The track covers the years 1952-2019 inclusive.

There’s just a single data reference: the European Union’s EUR-Lex Eurovoc database:

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A Symphony of Bureaucracy

A Symphony of Bureaucracy

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