In Which We Hear The Sounds of Silence

Observable Noise

by Melanie Strong

The ancient Greek philosophers considered there to be five elements of which the earth around us and beyond us is comprised. These are Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and Ether.

Technology has enabled us to create devices which allow the observation and manipulation of these elements. The resulting auditory investigation of the Earth’s phenomena is chronicled here: the sounds that they produce and the resulting musical instruments or artistic concepts that have emerged from these sounds.


Auditory Seismology

Using time-compression to accelerate the vibrational waves of global seismic activity, Florian Dombois makes landscape events audible to human ears.

Time Compression
Site Response

Fault Whispers

Artists Po Shu Wang and Louise Bertelsen will soon install two stainless-steel spheres measuring seven feet in diameter and standing fifty feet apart in a new San Diego park. The installation will allow East Village Park visitors to eavesdrop and monitor the earthquake fault that cuts diagonally through the city.

Wang and Bertelsen are also responsible for the piece titled Earth Song, which allows passersby to hear the tonal centre of the earth.


Mark Bain, American artist based in Amsterdam, enjoys sharing unheard sounds. His creation, the Sonusphere, acts as a low frequency acoustic radiator for the normally unheard movements of the earth.

Sonusphere Sample

Sound Dunes

Thirty-three sand dune sites around the world are known to sing and were recorded in the travels of Marco Polo and Charles Darwin.

Avalanches are known to cause this phenomenon and may cause a low rumble or even a high-pitched tune.

Musical Sand Dunes

Earth’s Hum

There is an earthquake happening somewhere on earth all but sixty days of the year. On those sixty days, the earth groans. If it’s not the plates shifting, it’s the ocean brewing trouble.

NPR Broadcast

Mark Bain Again

Using the seismic readings from Columbia University taken during and after the World Trade Centre attacks, our buddy Mark Bain created a 74-minute vibrational recording. The Guardian writes. “It certainly does not make easy listening. […] Bain says the vibration of the towers as they were hit by the hijacked passenger planes sounds like ‘tuning forks’.” He then seems quick to add that he “sees nothing morally questionable in making an artwork out of the event.”


Score For a Hole in the Ground

Jem Finer, of The Pogues fame won the PRS Foundation New Music Award on the basis of his proposal to bury bowls in holes in the ground and provide amplification to hear the rain drop into them.

Jem’s Explanation


Weather Harp

Hanging on a dirty brick city wall, it is made from formed goat skins impregnated with a marine epoxy and some serious math.

With the power of wind!

Aeolian Wind Harp

These ancient Greek instruments play the notes the wind wished it could.

Nature’s breathy rhythm


Fire Organ

Liquid nitrogen plus flames plus oscillations equal pretty much the only heat-powered instrument capable of producing a recognizable melody.

Explanation plus recognizable melody

In less controllable but more visually stunning forms:


The Insanity

Lead-acid batteries and pulse jets:

Groans from Hell

Sunwaves / Sun Singing

The sun rings like a bell and has over ten million notes.

Solar Storm

Solar Music Box

Music boxes powered by the sun, just what you thought.

Make one.
Buy one.


Glass Harmonica

Invented by Benjamin Franklin, musicians play the instrument by touching moistened fingers to the edges of the rotating glasses. Thomas Bloch is considered among the best players.

Thomas Bloch plays Mozart

Bubble Organ

Built by Aaron Wendel, it is made out of pieces of old furniture, wood and rain gutters collected from the alleys and dumpsters around his apartment.

Explanation and gurgling


Described by Tom Waits as “a cascading crystal waterfall of light amidst the songs of a whale”, it has been used by animal activist Jim Nollman to communicate with whales and has provided an eerie backdrop to a number of films.

The bronze monolith

Wave Organ

Twenty-five pipes descending into the coastal water off of a San Francisco Bay jetty collect and then amplify the soothing sound of surf.

The story and the sounds

Sea Organ

This Croatian staircase has whistle openings in the sidewalk and hides thirty-five tuned tubes that betray the secret sound of the tide.

Unity of architecture and environment

Ether or aether “of which the cosmos and all celestial bodies are made.”

Theremin / Aetherphone

One of the earliest electronic instruments and the first one to be played without touching, the theremin inspired Bob Moog , found its home in orchestras and provided atmosphere to vintage sci-fi films. It is pretty much the reason this article came into being and it will blow your mind.

Theremin virtuoso Lydia Kavina
The Legend of Zelda
Even cats can experience the ether

My first time playing a theremin! Hot cross buntastic.
The Heavy Blinkers – End of Summer Suite (Sweet)


Also invented by Léon Theremin, the terpsitone was a difficult to control dance platform where the dancers could create music from their body movements. There is only one known to remain in existence.

Universal Hum

Space is full of sounds.

The Big Bang or the Big Hum?

Electronic Music / Virtual Instruments

Because ether also includes cyberspace and the unknown space all around us, any sound which is created from the intangible is considered a product of ether. MIDI instruments, analog synths and by extension, Justice’s Cross album are excellent examples.

The addictive yet relaxing Longplayer (again from Jem Finer) “is a one thousand year long musical composition. It began playing at midnight on the 31st of December 1999, and will continue to play without repetition until the last moment of 2999, at which point it will complete its cycle and begin again.”

Because you’ll never hear it the same way again.

Melanie Strong is a contributor to This Recording. She posts sporadically at Assholes, Our Hell and Binge and Purge. This is her first appearance in these pages.

portrait of the author with some long hair


“Earth Intruders (Mark Stent Extended Mix)” – Björk (mp3)

“Sexy Boy” – Air (mp3)

“Who By Fire” – Leonard Cohen (mp3)

“Heavy Water” – Foals (mp3)

“Good Vibrations” – The Beach Boys (mp3)


George in The Believer.

Just Out of Reach

They Call It Football.

3 thoughts on “In Which We Hear The Sounds of Silence

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