The End of the Road
The End of the Road is a requiem for lost biodiversity, driven by a sonification of data on insect population decline, sourced from the scientific paper listed below. The scientist who wrote it, Anders Pape Møller, drove rental cars along two stretches of road in Denmark almost daily every summer, for two decades. Then he counted the insects killed on his windscreen. He found an 80-97% reduction in their numbers between 1997 and 2017.
You can hear two layers of data encoded in the music. The number of insects splattered onto Møller’s car each month is represented by the number of fluttering synth sounds in a bar. Higher sounds represent smaller insects, while lower sounds correspond to larger insects. As the number of insects falls, the sounds fall silent and the track empties out.
There’s also a synth pad with a falling melody. The notes are based on the measured 1.1% a year decline in global land-based insect populations. Every time insect numbers fall 5%, the melody drops down a note.
This track is the sound of driving through a vast, desolate landscape on a distant highway, with insects hitting your windscreen. There are ambient sound effects – cars zooming past, birds singing. There’s a sparse texture that gets even sparser as the insects disappear over time. Finally, there’s a funeral bell that tolls for every year that passes in the dataset.
The track covers the years 1997 - 2017 inclusive.
Insect population data from Møller’s paper was published in Dryad Data: https://datadryad.org/stash/dataset/doi:10.5061/dryad.gq73493
We also used this errata as a reference for the 1.1% per year decline in land-based insect populations globally: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/370/6515/eabf1915
It’s not data, but for more info on the Dies Irae sequence, check out this episode of 20kHz: https://www.20k.org/episodes/diesirae