You might know what the U.S.-Mexico border looks like – but do you know what it sounds like?
Using a map of the existing barriers between the U.S. and Mexico that our data team created, we worked together to sonically represent the presence – and absence – of border barriers in a few different ways.
First, to convert spatial data into sound, we determined when notes should be played.
We calculated the distance between the beginning of the border and where each segment of the fenced border began, as well as the length of that segment. We chose a speed at which we would move along the border (10 miles a second), then converted those distances to time. For example, a 10-mile-long segment of fence that begins 20 miles from the start of the border would start playing at 2 seconds, and the note would last for one second.
We also came up with different sounds to represent the various types of barriers along the border.
So go ahead, click play.
While you’re listening, picture yourself flying low over the U.S.-Mexico border, starting in San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, and ending nearly 2,000 miles to the east near Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico.
The lower note/melody represents tall pedestrian fence, often 10 to 20 feet high. Higher-pitched piano plinks represent shorter fence designed to stop vehicles, but not people. An airy keyboard drone signals gaps in the fence.
You can hear a stripped-down version of this song in our episode “Up against the wall.” It relies on the same principles using three basic elements: the two alternating synth lines and a drum sample. This, I found, partnered better with host Al Letson’s voice in the first segment of the episode.
Note: We’ve tried to help out listeners with a little stereo separation in both pieces. So if you’re listening on headphones, you’ll be able to pick out the “pedestrian fence” on the left and the “vehicle fencing” on the right.
This story was edited by Julia B. Chan.