As our newsroom worked on this week’s show about gun violence in Orlando, Florida, and beyond, Reveal’s Michael Corey and I started thinking about a way to represent data on the mass shooting through sound.
We used a process known as “data sonification” last year as part of an investigation into Oklahoma’s drilling-linked earthquake epidemic. This time, our goal was to represent the lives of the 49 people killed in the Orlando shooting over the course of 50 years.
We start in 1966. The first tone represents the birth of Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, who was the oldest person to be taken away that night. The last tone is for Akyra Monet Murray, born in 1998, the youngest person in the nightclub. There are 18 full cycles where every note plays, until we get to June 2016.
I thought of bells and bell-like tones and their meaning across different cultures. We recognize them in many places, from European village bells and the way that they signify important moments in communities to gamelan performances and the additive effect of overtones produced by a body of many different, interdependent instruments.
We find music in the moments when tones, like lives, intersect. They are meant to be funereal but also celebratory.
On first listen, it may feel like the repetitions go on for too long, as though we’re waiting for them to end or to change. But the ultimate statement of this piece is that there is beauty in those cycles and new life within every beat.
Sometimes, that life ends too soon.