The Honshu Earthquake, Overheard

March 20, 2011

A recent story on WNET’s “Need To Know” tuned us in to the work of Micah Frank, a Brookyln sound programmer and founder of the Tectonic Project, which aggregates real-time earthquake data from around the world (via the U.S. Geological Survey) and parses it into different sounds based on the parameters of the original data, including a quake’s magnitude, latitude, and longitude. (Pitch, for instance, is determined by the quake’s depth.)

The data is collected by USGS sensors located around the world. As there’s pretty much always a quake underway somewhere, the audible output of the Tectonic Project is a multilayered, near continuous, and decidedly eerie stream of sound. “It’s just another dimension,” Frank says. “I think a lot of people agree that it sounds like what the earth should sound like.”

Following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11, Frank posted clips on his Soundcloud page of several of the smaller, subsequent aftershocks:

Magnitude 5.4 – Off the east coast of Honshu, Japan 2011 March 11 17-32-13 UTC by Micah Frank

Magnitude 5.5 – Off the east coast of Honshu, Japan 2011 March 11 16-11-26 UTC by Micah Frank

Magnitude 5.0 – Near the east coast of Honshu, Japan 2011 March 11 15-46-01 UTC by Micah Frank

Magnitude 5.1 – Near the east coast of Honshu, Japan 2011 March 11 14-44-07 UTC by Micah Frank

He also has created a video that explains (sort of) how the Tectonic Project works:

Tectonic: Earthquakes Generate Music in Realtime from Micah Frank on Vimeo.

Frank’s site describes several other intriguing projects he has underway, including Solar, which parses data from the National Space Weather Prediction Center and converts it into sound; and Junction, which tracks the movements of taxis in some of the busiest sections of New York City and synthesizes sounds based on their positions, velocities, and overall density. Needless to say, it’s a lot more fun than actually riding in a NYC cab.

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