Sounds like a stock to keep an ear on
ROGER Dean is a professor of sonic communication, probably the only one in the country.
‘‘ I look upon it as embracing how you make sound artificially and how it’s made in the environment, how they share impacts on people and how they can be distinguished,’’ he says.
A composer and musician, Dean was a biochemist and vice- chancellor before joining MARCS Auditory Laboratories at the University of Western Sydney.
One of his projects, in keeping with his unusual breadth of interests, is to sonify what goes on in trading rooms of the kind staffed by the big banks.
As things stand, a trader may keep track of all sorts of things — a given share price, for example, an index for some sector of a market and so on — by watching two or three screens.
Dean and other researchers are in the early stages of working out how to use streams of sound so traders can take in information and warnings.
‘‘ You can walk around, you can be having your cup of coffee, you can still hear it,’’ he says.
The depth of a market might be communicated by pitch, while loudness could signal the value of trade. Four or so speakers, each carrying two or three streams of sound, could sit in the corners of a trading room.
‘‘ People listening to music can listen to at least eight streams ( being various instruments and musical patterns),’’ Dean says. A trader sitting in the middle of a room, the sweet spot, would be able to hear all the streams. With a touch of a button, a stream signalling something of importance could be turned up and tuned in.
Dean says speed of decision- making would be the chief benefit and traders would be less likely to make the mistake of not attending to the right indicator or warning at the right time.
‘‘ Auditory looming’’, a property of sound that attracts attention, could be one useful feature.
Another benefit, and one reason for the involvement of the Capital Markets Co- operative Research Centre, is that sound streams could also be used to detect dodgy or fraudulent trading.
Dean says there is plenty of work to be done to tailor sonification to traders, who might be trading anything from derivatives to water or energy.
He says the trick is to devise sound streams that make sense to traders, that they find attractive and user- friendly.
‘‘ One of the problems with sonification is that people get bored with it,’’ he says. It’s not unknown for airline pilots to turn off automated warning signals that irritate them.
As the project moves along, Dean would like to get some traders involved.
‘‘ The very small number ( of trading rooms) that we approached were not interested in investing in the idea; they were interested in the idea,’’ he says. ‘‘ We would like to work with some trading rooms.’’
Surely an early adopter of sonification might have an edge over competitors? ‘‘ That’s what I would argue,’’ he says.
Sonic reducer: Roger Dean of the University of Western Sydney
Picture: Graham Crouch