Social media has been credited with everything from wasting employees’ time to igniting revolutions across the middle east. It had, however, up until now never been accused of making music. Sam Harmon, an “audio technologist” and applications developer from the UK is working to change that with an app he created called Twinthesis, which uses Twitter’s public API to power a synthesizer on a Mac.
One of Harmon’s stated goals for the project is “the sonification of Twitter.” What Twitter might sound like is the product of, randomly generated by tweets and virtual knob twiddling. And whether or not that you find that sound pretty certainly depends on your taste and perhaps tolerance for experimental electronic music.
Twinthesis is patch for MaxMSP that can be downloaded as an app for Mac from Harmon’s website (download here), and it’s essentially a gift for those at the cross section of musical theory and tech wonkishness. In its current incarnation the system pulls the latest tweet from the public API and uses this to generate sound from a bank 140 oscillators. The number of characters in the tweet and the message itself (the characters are converted to an ASCII value) drive the system’s controls and determine the frequency of the oscillators. Every 30 seconds (a limit set by Twitter’s API) it pulls a new tweet, which changes the sounds. The user can control the reverb, speed, volume and other elements on six channels comprising the sounds.
The resulting clangs, blips, humming, buzzing and beeps will remind you of laboratory equipment in an old sci-fi movie or the spacier sections of the new Radiohead album.
You can listen to a track Harmon assembled using Twinthesis here. He says it was necessary to record 30 minutes of sound generated by the system to assemble the 3 minute track.
Twitter’s part in all this is to be the germ from which randomness is generated. True randomness is more elusive than you might think, and computers, since their algorithms are systematic, are not able create true randomness on their own. This is where the human element of randomness comes in, with people typing away and broadcasting their thoughts 140 characters at a time.