Volcanic Drift

This project is part of an ongoing series of work that uses customized geophones and custom built speakers to listen to sounds traveling below the surface of the earth.

Volcanic Drift presents the subteranean sounds of Yellowstone’s super caldera, lathed into vinyl records, and played back through a pair of custom built subwoofers. Because a portion of this audio extends below the range of human hearing (the infrasonic), these recordings are felt as well as heard. To prevent the records from skipping, the turntable is mounted on a vibration dampening seismically stabalized pedestal designed to absorbe the architectural resonance.

This audio evokes the organic: coursing blood, a beating heart, steady breath. However, it belongs to a system so large as to be indifferent to organic needs. The shape is striated, like layers of sediment. In listening, as the sound drones on surrounding us, we are invited to sift through the acoustic strata, sinking into an alternate space. There is an anxiety here in the deepest layers of the infrasonic. It stems from cataclysm and the latent image of eruptive volcanoes and fractured earth, of burial but also a distant memory of birth. These recordings come from a place inaccessible and inhospitable to our bodies, and in this way they are searching. Instead of looking up and out as we might look at the sky or at the sea, the recordings look down and in. Listening to the earth becomes a kind of time travel, we hear deep echoes of previously untold histories, the geologic past as it carries forward like radio waves into space. In searching this deep we are also trying to see ahead. This project creates a new space, one in which we look to the resonance of rocks as soothsayers. The site of listening becomes a place to ask questions even as we struggle to divine the answers.



The Records hold two recordings each, one on each side. The recordings were made in a remote geyser basin within Yellowstone National Park’s Super Caldera. The caldera, a giant collapsed volcano, has a magma pool that sits just a few thousand feet below the surface, powering the area’s hydrothermal landscape.

None of these recordings are sounds that can be heard above ground. Instead, we’re listening to the gurgle and pop of water boiling below the surface, the thud of steam pushing through vents and a steady low rumble that comes from somewhere and nowhere deep within the earth.

Each record is also a custom made map, rendered from disparate USGS datasets that detail the geology of the park. Each map is unique. The differing colors and markings depict rock type, geologic age, the direction of ancient lava flows, rivers, lakes, subterranean faults and geothermal hotspots. Each face is a geologic portrait of the caldera, the rim of which is shown on every disk. Flipping the records turns the map from day to night. In this way, each record is also a spinning portrait of the earth.



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