Conversations of Great Whales in the oceans… Low throb of ship engines… Continuous rumble of the ground beneath our feet and of the seafloor below the water… Bursts of vibrations excited by earthquakes…
We cannot normally hear these vibrations as sounds—the human ear is not designed to. But what if we could? What if we could make the sounds of the Earth audible?
Sounds of the Earth is an art-science collaboration of the sound artist and composer David Stalling and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. It aims to make the Earth audible, using a novel method for translating the spatial information contained within seismic data to ambisonic surround sound.
For a captivating, immersive listening experience, please use good loudspeakers or headphones!
Seismograms of earthquakes have a particular, recognizable structure. The high-frequency first arrivals (primary, or P waves) are followed by lower-frequency secondary (S) waves, and then by the energetic, low-frequency surface waves, as in these examples. The lowest-frequency surface waves usually arrive earlier than the higher-frequency ones, which produces an upward glide (glissando) from low to high pitch.
The concluding part of the seismogram is the Coda, composed of numerous scattered waves arriving from different directions. The sonification reveals a multitude of mysterious voices and fleeting musical harmonies within the long coda of large earthquakes – the subtle, mesmerising music of the seismogram.
The Earth Always Hums
Continuous, relentless vibrations of the Earth’s surface are known as the ambient seismic noise. It is composed of seismic waves excited mostly by the interactions of the ocean waves with the seafloor and, then, bouncing around within the Earth’s crust.
Listen to the low rumble of the Earth, overlaid with sounds of passing whales and ships – all recorded by seafloor seismometers.
Whales and Ships
Blue whales and fin whales are the largest animals on Earth. They use their low-pitch vocalisations to communicate at distances of tens and hundreds of kilometres from one another. Man-made noise, such as ship-traffic noise, creates acoustic pollution and intrudes into the whales’ conversations.
Sound artist & composer David Stalling has been collaborating with seismologist Sergei Lebedev and his team at DIAS since 2018 to develop a new set of tools for making sounds of the Earth audible by the human ear, using the latest surround sound technology. Seismometers and underwater hydrophones record vibrations of the ground, vibrations of the seafloor and acoustic waves in the water. Variations in the amplitude of the vibrations in different directions at the same location and between different locations add spatial information on the signals. Stalling found a new way to make this spatial information audible using the ambisonic surround sound technique. The renderings of these vibrations into the sonic domain make for an enthralling, immersive listening experience. Good quality loudspeakers or headphones are highly recommended!
David Stalling: sonification design, sound creations and video
Sergei Lebedev: project lead (DIAS), text, design, seismic data
Maria Tsekhmistrenko, Raffaele Bonadio (DIAS): seismic data, data processing, sonification
EL Putnam: website design