Hasso-Plattner-InstitutSDG am HPI
Hasso-Plattner-InstitutDSG am HPI

Sonic Thinking - Methods of Working with sound (Wintersemester 2021/2022)

Lecturer: Dr. Julia von Thienen

General Information

  • Weekly Hours: 2
  • Credits: 3
  • Graded: yes
  • Enrolment Deadline: 01.10.2021 - 22.10.2021
  • Teaching Form: Seminar
  • Enrolment Type: Compulsory Elective Module
  • Course Language: English

Programs & Modules

IT-Systems Engineering MA
Data Engineering MA
Digital Health MA
  • Communication Skills
  • Design Thinking Advanced
Cybersecurity MA


Hosts: This seminar is co-organized by Julia von Thienen, Marisol Jimenez and Henrik von Coler.

Location: The seminar is offered in person, HPI main building, XXXXXX. There is also the possibility to take part virtually via Zoom.

If you want to take part online please visit:


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Content: While the human sense of vision is harnessed a lot in human-computer interactions, opportunities arising from other human senses are much less explored. This class is especially dedicated to the auditory sense and resulting design opportunities in the field of digital engineering. It provides basic knowledge, skills and experiences in two directions: (i) audio technology, tools for data sonification and multichannel audio; (ii) the use of creativity and artistic freedom in the exploration of sound-related design opportunities.

In technical terms, the course is especially concerned with data sonification, a novel avenue for Human Data Interaction (HDI) that complements data visualisation. The potential of data sonification has been demonstrated, for instance, in the area of digital health. Based on well-designed sonification algorithms, sonified EEG data allows medical novices to detect critical conditions in seizure patients with a higher degree of accuracy than trained personnel visually inspecting EEG plots.

The seminar offers an introduction to music informatics, covering languages and environments: C++, Supercollider, PD (Max/MSP), Faust, Python, MIR, Kyma. It discusses the periphery (open sound control, microcontroller, PI) and spatial sound. In terms of sound synthesis, you learn about taxonomies, obtain a brief historical overview, learn about implementations and algorithms. As sound synthesis approaches, this course covers additive and subtractive techniques, physical modelling, spectral modelling and abstract algorithms. Further technical topics include machine listening, noise, and binaural rendering techniques.

In artistic regards, you learn about the basics of sound art and composition, create your own sound installation and design your own sounds.

In theoretical terms, this course is anchored in design thinking by means of the key concept of “human needs.” In this class, we work in particular with a framework of human needs developed by design thinking pioneer Robert McKim, which pays special attention to the role of all human senses in creative design processes and resulting products. The course is also a part of HPI neurodesign education; key application interests concern neuroscientific and digital health data. 

A major part of the class is your own creative project. Based on personal interests and passions, you can self-design your own digital engineering project, in which you explore opportunities of sound. Creative projects can be pursued alone as well as in teams.


There are no prerequisites for attending this class. 

To intensify your learnings, you can also take part in the “Neurodesign Lecture” on Mondays (XXXXXXXX), but this is not obligatory.

It is possible to conduct one bigger project across the neurodesign lecture and the neurodesign data sonification seminar. 


The final grade will be determined as follows:

Your Project

  • 20% first project presentation
  • 20% final project presentation
  • 30% documented source code & prototypical application (by March 31)

In-Class Topics & Skills

  • 15% audio technology method competence & engagement in class
  • 15% artistic & creative exploration in class


Dates (preliminary)

XXXX     Julia von Thienen: Design thinking concepts of human needs, multisensory HCI & HDI

              Marisol Jimenez: An Artist's Perspective on Sound Art

              Henrik von Coler: Technolgical Aspets of Electroaoustic Music and Sound Art

 XXXX    Henrik von Coler: Music Informatics (C++ / Supercollider / PD (Max/MSP) / Faust / Python / MIR)

XXX   Lukas Hartman, Luca Hilbrich, Tim Strauch, Philipp Steigerwald: The history of data sonification, interesting works and workshopping your own applications

XXX   Kaffe Matthews: Electroacoustic composition with space, data and things (via ZOOM)

XXX   Marisol Jimenez: Deep listening, basics of composition and workshopping your own piece

 XXX.     Henrik von Coler: Sound synthesis (Taxonomy, History and Implementation)

XXX.    First project pitches and discussion of ideas

XXX.    Sonification: Recent project examples

XXX       Noel Danz: Binaural renderings & brain data sonification with the BITalino platform

XXX      Nicolas D’Aleman: Machine listening, theory of sound and space; audio rendering techniques for multichannel audio

XXX.      Marisol Jimenez: Creating your own sound installation live

XXX.     Nico Steckhan: Sonification and digital health

XXX       Knut Kaulke: Sonification with Kyma

XXX      Final presentation of in-class projects