As the world is reshaped by the Covid-19 pandemic, this film commissioned by the Museum of London attempts to document, through the lens of data art, the change, and loss, that a city and its inhabitants have experienced during a year that nobody will ever forget – from 1st March 2020 until 28th February 2021.
London Under the Microscope reimagines the geography of the city through the iconic morphology of the Covid-19 virus to visualise and sonify how the pandemic has transformed the city. Each second is one day.
About the data visualisation:
The data encoding is rich and dense, and the viewer is left to decide what visual stimulus to pay attention to. The data visualisation system is borrowing the visual language of the 3D images of the Covid-19 virus – which have branded an invisible disease giving the pandemic a visual identity.
The 'spikes' – responsible for the corona-like surface, and the most distinguishing feature of coronavirus – represent the London boroughs. The spike's length grows with the passing of time: a new disc appears every day and its area is scaled to illustrate the number of reported cases per day. Attached to the spikes, there are the 'proteins': the daily deaths – small spheres that pop in and out. As they dissolve, they add up to a cumulative counter which fills the screen and dramatically changes the scene.
On the 'membrane' of the virus, a subtle animation marks the mobility in each local authority as described by the use of public transport in the Google Mobility reports. We see the city opening up during the summer of 2020 as the numbers of reported cases and deaths decrease, with more particles moving.
A deep red transforms the membrane over time to illustrate the toll and how some areas have been more affected than others (number of deaths per 100,000 people).
Vaccines are introduced in December 2020 with filaments growing from the virus (one line represents 100 vaccinations), and creating a positive and hopeful halo effect.
Finally, to mark the passing of time and give context to the visualisation, a list of curated events is displayed on screen, the position marks a different type of entry (quotes, data commentary, events, trending words).
About the data sonification:
Data has been turned into music. A heartbeat sounds once per second throughout the track, representing the passage of time and the growth of the virus inside the bodies of its hosts. Deaths are represented by the loudness of a low droning sound, which audibly peaks during the first wave. Case numbers are represented by a chord of several higher-pitched drones, with each pitch representing a different strain of the virus. The chord subtly changes as new mutations emerge, rise and fall. Movement of people through transit stations is represented by the bassline - with more movement being associated with more notes in the same space of time. During the peak of each lockdown, just one bass note pulses per second. Towards the end of the animation, a new sound appears - with its volume reflecting the proportion of Londoners who've been vaccinated.