The sound of the SAS


At the beginning of 2011, I heard about the Dow Piano, which was created by The Dow Piano visualizes the performance of the Dow Jones industrial average in 2010 with a line plot, but also adds an auditory component. As Bård Edlund, Art Director at, said,

The daily trading of the Dow Jones industrial average determines the songwriting here, translating the ups and downs of 2010's market into musical notes. Using a five-note scale spanning three octaves, pitch is determined by each day's closing level.

When I first saw the Dow Piano, I immediately thought, "I can do that in SAS/IML Studio by using the SOUND call in the SAS/IML language!"

To be fair, I can't fully duplicate the Dow Piano in SAS/IML software. The SOUND call in SAS is very simple: it only provides pitch and duration. The music for the Dow Piano is more complex:

  • It uses piano notes, which involves sound characteristics such as attack and decay.
  • It uses dynamics to represent trading volume: high-volume days are represented by loud notes, low-volume days by soft notes.
  • It overlays a percussion track so that you hear a percussive beat on days that the stock market is closed.

Nevertheless, I think the SAS/IML version captures the main idea by allowing you to listen to the performance of the Dow Jones industrial average. (Get it? The performance?)

Will this kind of visualization (auditorization? sonification?) catch on? Time will tell, but for these data, the sound doesn't add any new information; it merely uses the sense of sound to repeat information that is already in the line plot. In fact, the sound present less information than the line plot: there are more than 250 closing values of the Dow Jones industrial average, but the Dow Piano collapses these values into 15 notes (three octave of a five note scale).

But enough analysis! Listen to the Way of the Dow. The demo starts at 0:45, after I introduce the problem. If your browser does not support embedded video, go directly to the video on You Tube.


About Author

Rick Wicklin

Distinguished Researcher in Computational Statistics

Rick Wicklin, PhD, is a distinguished researcher in computational statistics at SAS and is a principal developer of SAS/IML software. His areas of expertise include computational statistics, simulation, statistical graphics, and modern methods in statistical data analysis. Rick is author of the books Statistical Programming with SAS/IML Software and Simulating Data with SAS.

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