Micah Frank is an electronic musician and sound designer, based out of New York, whose recent work is generating a lot of controversy because it involves the sonification of earthquakes.
Above, Frank’s Sonification of the great Japan earthquake.
Frank’s Tectonic is 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.
We’ve mentioned Frank’s Tectonic, a free album of music created using this approach, previously. Many readers took issue with the post and its subject matter.
One reader asked, “Does the music include the sound of people screaming, pinned inside crumblings buildings, sirens, explosions?”
Others, though, heard something besides tragedy. “It’s an effort to bring something interesting and wonderful out of chaos. There is no changing the fact that earthquakes happen.”
Making Art Out Of Tragedy
When I initially posted on Micah Frank’s Tectonic project, I was focused on the technology and the concept of translating the earth’s processes into music. Readers pointed out that there’s more to Frank’s project than Max/MSP and synthesis, though.
There’s also a sensationalistic element and an opportunistic aspect to it. And, with the latest sonification, there’s the question of whether it’s appropriate to be making music when there are bodies to be recovered.
I think that art does have a very important role in helping us understand tragedy and that it’s important for musicians to deal with difficult issues.
But, while I’m comfortable with Frank releasing a free album of music made from earthquake data, I’m less comfortable with the idea of him making music out of tragedy and publishing it as the events are still happening.
Here are Frank’s comments on his Sonification of the great Japan earthquake. I’d be interested in your thoughts on it and on the larger question of how musicians should approach dealing with tragic situations:
Sonification of 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 and there have been almost 40 in the past 8 hours.
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.