The War of the Worlds – a data illustration

(best viewed on larger screens)

The War of the Worlds has been captivating me ever since I read it the first time. The book was written by H.G. Wells and published in 1898. I am always very easily rapt and scared by the idea of (natural) disasters, or like in this case, invasion from outer space. Most recent generations will probably refer to the Steven Spielberg movie from 2005 with leading actor Tom Cruise and a young Dakota Fanning (never watched it again because some scenes still haunt me). It is the musical version by Jeff Wayne however that overly fueled both my intrigue and anxiety. That mellifluous baritone voice of Richard Burton (narrator). The way he pronounces words like ‘scrutinized’ and ‘immeasurably’ and ‘envious eyes’, splendid pauses between some words to increase the suspense. 

‘No one would have believed…… … ……

… …… … ……… … …… . … … …… ..… … …… . … … …… .. 

. … … …… .. …… …..… . … … … . … … …… ...… … ……… .. …

. … …… .. … …… . … … …… .. … …… .. … …

… … … . … …… .. … …… . ….. …

….. ‘and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us.’

These are lines at the beginning of the musical, no sound yet, just the voice of the narrator. And then the music comes tumbling down on you. It still is the ending that has me captivated the most. Because what if…

The data-illustration presented below was created with excruciating attention, constantly play-stop of the songs to count, note down the time of talking, singing, or just music/sounds. I am not a (sound-)technician who certainly could have done it much more accurate than I did, but by handling it the way I do it makes me get into a state of focus and flow, which is how I can optimize my design.

The elements speech    , singing    , and sound     were coded by different sizes of ‘bits’ in a somehow Roman numeral manner. The smallest bit being 1 second, then sizing up to 5, 15, 30 seconds, and a bigger ‘bit’ of 1 minute. This way the lengths of the songs are different from the actual time-measurement. Overlapping of the different bits appear when there’s singing or talking on top of the sound/music.

   is the sound that the Martian fighting machines make and is to be heard throughout the musical. The coding is simple: every letter stands for its audible duration in a song (one second equals one letter). The titles of the songs are in the upper row, the numbers correspondent to the rows of bits.

The small shapes    which appear above each row of bits are the elements that code the characters which or/and are talking/singing. These characters can be found at the left of all rows.

A little extra introduction to why I chose to illustrate The War of the Worlds:

I think I listened to the War of The Worlds by Jeff Wayne for the first time somewhere in the nineties when I got interested in music myself. I was a fan of synthesizer music but didn’t have the slightest idea of what rock opera bands had been creating in the seventies and eighties. The War of the Worlds was created in 1978 (I was 4yrs old at that time and my parents mostly listened to Dutch and German music). It is only recently that I found out what great voices participated in this epical/bombastic accumulation of sounds. Next to Burton, who was an actor, you have people like David Essex, David Dustin Hayward of the Moody Blues, Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Julie Covington from Evita (by Andrew Lloyd Webber).
Scrutinizing this musical myself now I’ve come to appreciate other elements of it. For example, the arrangements, the bridges, the different tempo in songs, the sounds that I never really heard before.

This data-illustration is available as a print in my Redbubble shop, where you can also find other projects of mine as wall-art, stationary, clothing and such. Have a look 


Thank you for visiting!

Sources: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells,, Jeff Wayne’s Musical version of the War of the Worlds, Spotify, Jeff Wayne’s Musical version of the War of the Worlds, Wikipedia

And do take a listen to these while your at it: Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues, The Boys are Back in Town by Thin Lizzy, Blinded by the Light by Manfred Mann's Band and Don't Cry for Me Argentina by Julie Covington