Sounds of the Earth: New compositions shed light on planet’s noises

Work by Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies provides ‘new perspective’ of Earth

Conversations of great whales, sounds of ships passing, and bursts of vibrations caused by earthquakes are among the sounds listeners can experience in new musical compositions launched by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS).

Sounds of the Earth is an art-science collaboration between the sound-artist and composer David Stalling and scientists at DIAS.

Stalling has been collaborating with DIAS since 2018 to make various noises of the Earth audible to the human ear. The sounds were obtained thanks to one of the boldest deep-ocean research projects ever undertaken in Europe. The SEA-SEIS project, led by scientists at DIAS, deployed a network of state-of-the-art ocean bottom seismometers across the Irish offshore area in 2018.

The project deployed 18 seismometers across an area spanning more than 1,500km from north to south and over 1,000km from east to west. A number of sensors were also placed in the UK and Icelandic waters.


Seismologist and leader of the SEA-SEIS project Prof Sergei Lebedev said: "Humans are not designed to hear conversations of great whales or the bursts of vibrations caused by earthquakes. The Sounds of the Earth musical compositions have made these noises audible to the human ear due to the successful collaboration between art and science."

Thanks to the technological sophistication of the seismometers, they were able to record these noises on the seafloor.

“Not only has David Stalling produced innovative compositions, but his work also gives scientists and non-scientists alike a new perspective and a new understanding of the polyphony of the Earth’s vibrations,” he said.

‘Rare insight’

The works presented this week mark the launch of Sounds of the Earth, which, in the coming weeks and months, will showcase a number of captivating musical compositions using the Earth’s sounds.

“The collaboration with DIAS and Prof Lebedev has been an absolute pleasure. Working with the seismic data has expanded my practice as a composer and musician profoundly,” David Stalling said. “ It has given me a rare insight into sonic phenomena that I did not even imagine existing. Through this process I have come to value the significance of these sounds. I am honoured to make the experience of listening to the Earth possible – and I believe we need to do this more.”

CEO and registrar of DIAS Dr Eucharia Meehan said it was a fantastic example of art and science collaborating to make science accessible and engaging for the general public. She looked forward to seeing DIAS continue to play a leading role in deep-ocean research "and forming future collaborations with artists".

To listen to the Sounds of the Earth visit:

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times