Music based on earthquake waves

Many readers will have heard the vibration signal of an earthquake, as recorded by a seismometer, and replayed through a speaker: listen to some examples here. They are eerily like the sounds of falling, multi-storey buildings. Scary, especially if you think of the horrors of the devastation in SE Turkiye and NE Syria caused by the 6 February 2023 magnitude 7.8 event on the East Anatolian Fault system

Since P-waves are very like sound waves, audibly converting the one to the other is relatively simple. However, earthquakes are rarely single events, each major one being preceded by foreshocks and followed by aftershocks, both recurring over weeks or months. Highly active areas are characterised by earthquake swarms that can go on continuously, as happens with sea-floor spreading at mid-ocean ridges. In the case of Yellowstone National Park there are continual quakes, but there the seismicity results from magma rising and falling above a superplume. Most of such swarm-quakes are diminutive, so playing the speeded-up signal through a loudspeaker just sounds like a low, tremulous hiss.

Domenico Vicinanza a physicist at the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge UK specialises in creating music from complex scientific data, including those from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, to help interpret them. He has recently turned his hand to the Yellowstone earthquake swarm, converting the amplitudes and frequencies of its real-time seismograph to notes in a musical score: listen to the results here. They are surprisingly soothing, perhaps in the manner of the song of the humpback whale used by some to help with their chronic insomnia.

See also:  Davis, N. Rock concert: Yellowstone seismic activity to be performed on live flute, The Guardian; 8 May 2023