The Listening Machine Turns Tweets Into Music

Have you ever wondered what Twitter would sound like if tweets could be translated into music? Would it be a high-pitched “Eeeee!” thanks to the many millions of Beliebers tweeting nonstop? Or maybe it would be a “beep-bop-boop” robotic sound to account for all the spammer-style bot accounts?

The Listening Machine has decided to find out. And the sound is . . . unexpected. And worth a moment of your time to pop on and listen in.

The Listening Machine is an automated system that translates the conversations, thoughts and feelings of 500 Twitter users into a continuous piece of music that will continue to develop and grow over time, adjusting its responses to social patterns and generating subtly new musical output. That was a mouthful, hmm? Here’s how it works:

When any of the 500 people it is following posts a status update, the machine analyses the tweet’s properties in terms of both sound and meaning, and generates music based upon it, with each tweet being analysed from a number of perspectives:

  • Its sentiment: is it positive, negative or objective?
  • Its classification: is it about a specific topic? They are using eight categories to classify each status update (as seen in the image below)
  • Its prosody, or rhythm of speech and intonation: vowel sounds and rhythmic patterns are extracted to translate sequences of words into flowing sequences of musical notes.

The result (heard here) sounds a bit eerie, but mostly brings to mind an elementary school orchestra. It’s a bit addictive actually. Like those live-cam penguins (don’t look it up or your day will be wasted watching them).

So who are these 500 Twitter accounts powering the stream? They’re not telling – and for good reason: “We have intentionally not revealed the set of people whose Twitter profiles are followed by The Listening Machine, so that the musical outcome is not affected by people becoming aware that they are a part of it.” So if you’re in the UK, it could be you!

In case you’re wondering, the nifty device was created by Daniel Jones, Peter Gregson and Britten Sinfonia. And why are they doing this again? Well, to create a soundtrack to our everyday social lives, of course! (And to help promote The Space, the new on-demand digital arts channel from the BBC and Arts Council England.)

It is running from May until October 2012. Check it out!

(Symphony orchestra photo from Shutterstock)