Tectonic at 319 Scholes in NYC. Earthquakes synthesizing sounds across an array that reflects the global position.

Sonification of Earthquakes off the Coast of Honshu, Japan - Friday March 11, 2011

Earthquakes off the east coast of Honshu, Japan - Friday March 11, 2011 by Micah Frank

Sonification of the incredible seismic activity off the coast of Honshu, Japan - Friday March 11th.

This is only a selection of 20 or so individual readings. At the time of this recording, earthquakes are ongoing as there have been almost 40 readings in the past 8 hours.

UPDATE: As more readings come in that result in interesting generations I will post throughout the day on SoundCloud: http://soundcloud.com/micahfrank

Tectonic is a realtime seismic analysis and sound synthesis system. Sound is created in realtime by earthquakes as they occur across the globe. A tightly integrated system between Max/MSP, Google Earth and Symbolic Sound’s Kyma processes earthquake data that is translated into sound synthesis parameters. A USGS XML feed is parsed into numerous fields including magnitude, elevation, time of day and geographical coordinates. These data are mapped to synthetic spectrums and processed by granular, aggregate and subtractive synthesis.

Learn more about Tectonic at http://micahfrank.com/tagged/tectonic

Free Sonification Compilation & Ableton Live Instrument

The Tectonic compilation includes almost an hour of earthquake sonifications that can be listened to as a full length album, or played as an instrument in Ableton Live. The Live instrument includes over 30 high quality samples arranged as a menu of soundscapes.

The compilation’s source material originated from US Geological Survey data, parsed by Cycling 74’s Max/MSP and synthesized in Symbolic Sound’s Kyma X. Read more about Tectonic


Adapting Tectonic to ‘Organic’ Synthesis Designs

Tectonic’s Max output is now interfacing directly with a Kyma system. This has enabled me to realize the project’s full potential through various types of synthesis created organically, through the the many parameters being passed to Kyma. The initial planning of the port basically took place in this sketch.

tectonic sketch

Programming this “flowchart” in Kyma is taking place slowly day-by-day. However, most of the synthesis channels are completed. So what’s happening here? 

When Max picks up a new earthquake it sends the data to Kyma generating a new synthetic spectrum. From there, based on a parameter (like latitude) the spectrum gets resynthesized through 1 of four methods - granular resynthesis, waveshaping, subtractive or physical modeling.

As in the original prototype, longitude controls the output of the speaker array. It will automatically spatialize the longitudinal coordinates across multiple speakers. Basically, this means that Tectonic is no longer limited to one speaker per zone. Instead, the reading can register at any point in a 360-degree radius.

Tectonic debuted last weekend at 319 Scholes. Six speaker surround array and a kiosk with visualizations programmed by Dave Linnenbank. 



imageFinally finished the prototype for Tectonic after 2 months of work. Tectonic is a system I’ve been developing to create realtime synthesis based on data from seismic activity. It will ultimately be a complete install with a projector and over 12 speakers (see models below). This is the first working prototype I have set up in the studio.

I’ve already begun making new implementations and alterations. It’s quite amazing how flexible the system actually is - and a very powerful content generator. The other day I created an entire live performance powered by the barrage of seismic activity in Chile. It really is endless…

About Tectonic

Tectonic is a sound sculpture created in real time by earthquakes as they occur across the globe. A tightly integrated system between Max/MSP, Google Earth and Ableton Live processes a stream of real-time data that is translated into synthesis and sample playback parameters.

When an earthquake occurs, seismic data is relayed to the system, sound is produced and Google Earth immediately flies to the coordinates of the latest earthquake giving us a visual representation of the newest developments. As multiple earthquakes occur daily, the sculpture builds, enmeshing itself in a complex soundscape of textures and tones - every second, different from the last and never repeating the same stage twice.