An Interactive Musical Timeline of Mass Shootings in the U.S. since 1982

Since first publishing a report in 2012, the magazine Mother Jones has been continuously maintaining a crowd-sourced spreadsheet of dates, locations, casualties, and other metrics for each instance of a mass shooting that has occurred in the US since 1982. A mass shooting is defined by the FBI and other criminal-justice experts as “a single attack in a public place in which four or more victims were killed.”

This project was a result of an assignment for the class “Interactive Music” during the Spring of 2018 at ITP at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. We were challenged to imagine and perform a completely novel musical score––namely, one that did not use traditional music notation. To that end, I have conceived of Mother Jones’ dataset as my musical score. Each column of data corresponds to different audio events within a browser-based program. I use Tone.js and Moment.js Javascript libraries to generate the audio and time it out. Mozart’s “Requiem” provides the basis for the chord progression. The audio events occur in concert with a p5.js animation over a map of the US, with the shootings visualized in their respective locations as ellipses sized according to casualty counts. Viewers may hover their mouse over each ellipse to receive a detailed description of the shooting as provided by Mother Jones. After a few minutes of continuous play, a button with the word “Enough” begins to fade in. The song and animation will loop infinitely unless the viewer clicks the button, which will lead them to information about anti-gun-violence advocacy, leaving them with the option to make a call to their local representative.

Like the shootings in real life, nothing will change unless those who are able to act. The “Enough” button is an attempt to connect form to function: what is the point of aestheticizing data this fraught? Can there be a tangible connection between aesthetics and action? How can music be used to make subjects that might otherwise be paralyzing and overwhelming accessible and knowable? Put another way: how can music move us?

This is an open source project. See the original article and source code.