Massachusetts Geophonic

Massachusetts Geophonic

Music from the geologic map of Massachusetts

Massachusetts Geophonic is both an interactive piece of music and a musical instrument. It is a interface to create music out of data from the USGS MA geologic map, mapping from the geologic properties of the rocks to sound. The challenge was to map 2D, sometimes qualitative geologic data into a piece of music, which is usually a one-dimensional format (time). To facilitate this Massachusetts Geophonic is open ended. The music is shaped by the performer (or explorer), but its structures are created by the geology. The properties of the rocks are the underlying musical material, and the performer can exploit them in varied combinations.

Massachusetts Geophonic was commissioned by Swissnex Boston for the opening on June 4, 2013 of Swiss Style Reboot - a show of Swiss style infographics at Northeastern University.

Below is a video of the premiere performance at Northeastern. I've performed the piece several times since, each time with slight improvements and new features. It now includes user-selectable musical scale, tonic note and transposition, and two-way integration with the KMI QuNeo.

Try it yourself

You can download Massachusetts Geophonic for Mac or Windows and try it out. All you'll need to explore (and perform) the geologic map of Massachusetts is a mouse and keyboard. Requires Windows XP+ or OS X 10.5+.

Download Massachusetts Geophonic

How It Works

Massachusetts Geophonic presents the geologic map of the state as a set of data layers such as Rock Age, Rock Type, Major Faults and Gravity Anomaly. These data layers constitute a palette from which the performer/explorer can create music. Using the mouse, the performer manipulates the endpoints of up to four paths on the map which also operate as musical loops with moving 'playheads'. The software interprets the geologic data that the loop's playhead traverses and synthesizes music from it based on sets of rules that the performer can modify with onscreen controls. Data layers can be turned on or off to control the complexity of the sound or bring out different aspects of the geology sonically.

Detailed description (PDF)

A video compiled from my explanation and question and answer section at the first performance. I wan't very good at explaining it succinctly yet, so I'm working on making a better explanation video.