Bitcoin is out of control. The total size of the crypto-currency market cracked $1 billion on March 30, a five-fold increase since the beginning of the year. That’s an impressive feat for a currency that is “mined” by doing math and guaranteed by no government on earth. The question now being asked isn’t if the bubble will burst but when. I can’t answer that question. But I can tell you what it will sound like. It will sound like a piano solo.
At least that’s how it will sound at Listen To Bitcoin. Go to the website and you’ll find a multitude of opaque bubbles, each appearing with a random note from a celesta–a keyboard instrument that sounds a bit like a vibraphone. Every 10 minutes or so there’s an orchestral swell made from double basses along with a large square bubble, signifying a “Bitcoin block” (basically a set of transactions performed to synchronize the network). At slow times, the site sounds a bit like Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. But when there is a flurry of transactions, the screen goes almost white with intersecting bubbles, and it sounds like there’s a cat on the keyboard.
The website is a project of Maximillian Laumeister, an undergrad studying game design at UC Santa Cruz, who built it over the course of a week during his spring break, programming 12 hours a day. Every time someone buys a Bitcoin at the largest exchange, Mt. Gox, it’s picked up by servers at Blockchain.info and transmitted to his website. Each bubble appears a few seconds after the transaction to which it corresponds. “One of the things I want people to take away from this website is that there is beauty in the data around us,” he says. “And that if we present data in the right way, it can be captivating, even to people who have no idea what it is.”
The website is captivating, but it’s also a source of information. The soothing background music is transformed into an attention-getting chaos of plinking when the transaction volume gets high. If the notes themselves (currently random) conveyed information or if there was a drone whose pitch changed with the exchange rate, I could imagine it becoming a tool for traders of even more legitimate currencies.
Laumeister says he does plan to make changes, incorporating feedback he’s gotten from users of Reddit and the forum Bitcointalk. But it may have to wait a while; asked about one feature, he said he was planning to add it, “but I was running out of time (classes start again tomorrow). If there’s lots of demand for it though, I’ll add it next week in my free time.”