Listen to this unusual, fascinating and deeply moving experiment: four decades of global refugee movement translated into a three-minute music video.
Brian Foo, a New York City-based programmer and visual artist who calls himself a 'data-driven DJ,' has generated this song using refugee data from the United Nations from 1975 to 2012.
"The quantity, length, and pitch of the song's instruments are controlled by the volume of refugee movement and distance traveled between their countries of origin and asylum," Foo writes in a blog post, explaining the methodology behind the video.
“The song composition is entirely algorithmic and is composed of the following building blocks:
• Each year between 1975 and 2012 correlates to a 4-second segment in the song.
• The annual global aggregate volume of refugee migration controls the quantity of instruments playing. The higher the volume of refugee migration, the more instruments are added to the song.
• The annual average distance of refugee migration controls the duration and pitch of the instruments. Longer distances yield instruments that play longer and lower-pitch notes (e.g. long distances: , short distances: ).
• The annual amount of countries with 1000+ refugees control the variety of instruments playing, where the more countries with 1000+ refugees, the more variety of instruments are playing in the song.”
Foo decided to limit the song to these four components and not add additional context, such as the reasons for displacement, civil wars, invasions, coups, elections, as he believed it would add too much complexity. He wanted “the listener to intuitively and viscerally experience the sheer volume of displaced populations and the distance they travel from their home country.” And you can really feel this: the song starts gently, then sweeps you along and makes you dizzy as the numbers of refugees grow.
Four seconds in the song correlate to one historical year. In 1975, which is the first year of Foo's visualization, there are about 1.6 million world refugees. Fifteen years later, the number of world refugees has increased by 900 percent and the refugee movement has become truly global.
His song was largely inspired by The Refugee Project, an interactive web project and map of refugee migrations since 1975. For more context behind some of the numbers for each year, go to The Refugee Project website and click through their interactive temporal map. And for more information on Foo’s song, click here.