Despite spending countless hours of her PhD at Stanford making visits to remote stretches of Alaska, poring over yellow cedar measurements and photos and ultimately publishing her findings, Lauren Oakes was about to experience her data in a new way.
Driving for a weekend trip to the Sierras, she turned the volume way up in her car and hit play. A cascading piano was joined by a flute, cello and other instruments. As the piece continued, the piano’s high staccato notes gave way to lower, more intermittent ones before ending on a wave of strings, leaving a sense of another movement yet to be written.
Oakes had just heard the sound of climate change in Alaska’s yellow cedar forests and the ways it’s already altered the landscape. It wasn’t just a composer’s impression of her research, though. She had just heard her data — data meticulously collected and pored over for years—translated from numbers and charts into music.