CITY SIGHTS: Finding the science-art in New York area art exhibitions
By Julia Buntaine, Editor-in-Chief
The American Museum of Natural History, Hayden Planetarium
SeismoDome 3: Sights and Sounds of Earthquakes and Global Seismology at the Hayden Planetarium
January 14th, 2016
Having spent most of my life on the east coast, I don't think too often about earthquakes. Earthquakes really only show up on my Richter Scale when their size creates a catastrophe that affects an entire region, such as the devastation we've seen this century caused by earthquakes in places like Japan, Haiti, and Indonesia. SeismoDome revealed that even if there are not large-scale events created by the shifting of our tectonic plates and molten rock, there is a lot to see, and hear, under the surface.
Beginning with a bit of 'global geophysics 101', SeismoDome was created and presented by Ben Holtzman (geophysicist at Columbia University), Jason Candler (sound engineer and designer), and Douglas Repetto (director of the Sound Arts MFA program at Columbia University). Narrating over slides that showed the different ways that geophysicts measure and visualize earthquakes, sitting in the audience I felt as if I were getting this background information in order to be able to fully appreciate the spectacular images I knew were coming at the end of the show (I was right). In visualizing and sonifying what are essentially invisible events, I was amazed (and perhaps someone from California would not have been so) at how many mini-quakes speckle our history in the last 70 years alone.
Here is a video of one type of visualization we saw:
The sounds in this video, and all sounds at Seismodome, do not just mark the occurrence of an earthquake - the pitch and intensity of this sonified data, in addition to the color it appears as, tells you how powerful, and at what layer of the earth a given earthquake took place. It was made clear to the audience that if we couldn't remember what means what (high pitch means closest to the earthquake start point, orange means deep near the core of our planet, etc.), just watch out for the dark purple and blue ones! Those take place closest to the surface and are the most damaging to us.
Once we were caught up to speed the real show began. Below are some pictures I (somewhat furtively) took - the problem with taking pictures of a moving picture in a dome is you really can't relay the experience, at all. So just imagine being inside these abstractions:
While the spattering-dot visuals had the most interesting and impactive sonifications, the most spectacular visualizations came at the end, showing the wave field motions of an earthquake over our entire planet. Beginning with the earthquake focus point, the resulting waves would flow across the globe, concentrate, and bounce back, creating interference patterns that got weird, and reminded me of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Not evident in these pictures is the most wonderful, and most clever aspect of this show: projected onto the dome were the outlines of our continents in reverse, which placed the viewer inside, at the center of the Earth looking out. This point of view was fascinating, and completely disturbing, and gave an immersive global picture of earthquakes that classroom slideshows could only hope to hint at.
For more information on SeismoDome, visit: http://www.seismicsoundlab.org/
All pictures courtesy of Julia Buntaine, video courtesy of seismicsoundlab.org.