At the beginning of June I travelled to Michigan Technological University for the 24th edition of the International Conference on Auditory Display. Michigan Tech is situated in the adjoining towns of Houghton and Hancock in the Upper Peninsula of Northern Michigan. They are separated by a waterway, which runs across the Keewenaw peninsula as it juts up into Lake Superior from its southern shore. The peninsula is primarily composed of forest and made for quite a remote and interesting travel destination.
I presented a paper entitled Sonifying Stochastic Walks on Biomolecular Energy Landscapes (http://icad2018.icad.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ICAD2018_paper_32.pdf) which was the culmination of a collaboration between myself and Rob Arbon. We used Markov models to design a strategy for mapping features of the free energy landscape of a molecular simulation to sonic parameters. This allows for concurrent visual display of the physical configuration of a biomolecule and auditory display of characteristics of the corresponding free energy landscape. The paper was well received and was nominated for the best student paper award.
Other notable works presented at the conference were a new sonification method for multivariate time-series data from Thomas Hermann called Wavespace Sonification (https://pub.uni-bielefeld.de/publication/2919707), a portable systems for detecting rhythmic disturbances in ECG readings (https://pub.uni-bielefeld.de/publication/2919691) and a technique for using Shepard Tones in navigation tasks (http://icad2018.icad.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ICAD2018_paper_7.pdf).
One theme that provoked much discussion was the design process (or lack thereof) for creating auditory displays. Michael Quinton presented a review of current working methods (http://icad2018.icad.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ICAD2018_paper_11.pdf), highlighting the lack of a unified design process and, in particular, the fact that many projects seem to tack little account of end-user requirements.
I found some spare time for a little bit of hiking and the beautiful woodland and lakeside trails were a welcome contrast to sitting in a lecture theatre.
We were also lucky enough to time our visit to coincide with the towns biggest annual festival – Bridgefest! – where they celebrate the building of the bridge that connects the two towns with a parade.
Bizarrely, the day after we left, Houghton suffered some catastrophic flash flooding which destroyed some of the roads; we were lucky to get out just before it happened!