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Experience Yellowstone’s geysers ‘in concert’

Published: 8 September 2021 at 14:00

Geyser at Yellowstone National Park

British Science Festival event will unveil the sound of geothermal activity

Yellowstone’s geysers have been studied by scientists for the last 150 years, but a new project led by Dr Domenico Vicinanza and Dr Genevieve Williams is sharing their geothermal data in a way that has never been seen, or heard, before.

Ferdinand Hayden’s 1871 survey is regarded as the first proper scientific study of the Yellowstone.  Accompanying Hayden’s team of scientists was an artist and a photographer, and their remarkable images helped to convince politicians to establish Yellowstone as the United States’ first national park a year later.

Now Dr Vicinanza (Anglia Ruskin University) and Dr Williams (University of Exeter) have set out to share the magnificence of Yellowstone’s geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs through classical music, and the result of their work will be performed to an audience for the first time at the British Science Festival 2021 in Chelmsford on Friday, 10 September.

Yellowstone, which straddles the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, is home to the largest number of active geysers in the world, and through a process called data sonification, the scientists have turned their physical characteristics into melodies, harmonies, and rhythms.  

Infrasonic measurements and audio recordings – captured at different sites within the park and during different levels of activity – have been used as a starting point, with the waveforms “distilled” using a series of mathematical processes.  For example, the strongest regular oscillations that underpin a geyser’s vibrations at a specific point in time are mapped to musical notes. 

Different melodic lines represent different characteristics of the geothermal landscape, producing an evolving musical representation of the earth, water, and steam vibrations.  The result is a score that brings the complexity, structure, and unique properties of Yellowstone’s features to life.

Dr Domenico Vicinanza, a data scientist and musician at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) said:

“Music is a powerful and entertaining way of exploring the wonderful world of Yellowstone’s geothermal features, and we are the first to create classical music from scientific data recorded in the park.

“Graphs and charts can be an effective method of representing data for some, but we know they don’t necessarily engage everyone.  Music offers the opportunity to experience science and hear geothermal characteristics such as patterns, regularities, and cycles in a way that is accessible to all.  

“Our music scores will be made available online for free so everyone can learn about the oldest US national park through the music it creates.  We hope it will raise awareness of what makes Yellowstone so special – its geysers, bubbling hot mud pools, springs, and rivers – and demonstrate how planet Earth is a living, pulsating entity.”

The British Science Festival 2021 is organised by the British Science Association, in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).  Yellowstone's Geysers In Concert, featuring classical violinist Katherine Sung, will take place at Hot Box Live in Chelmsford on Friday, 10 September (7.30pm).  To book free tickets, visit https://britishsciencefestival.seetickets.com/event/yellowstone-s-geysers-in-concert/hot-box/1983923