Hearing Earth: Rumblings of a Complex Planet

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Listener John Bullitt of Somerville, Mass., adds his seismographic recording of the planet Earth to our series SoundClips. He speeds the audio up so that what is normally inaudible to humans can be heard.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

You have probably heard our SoundsClips series by now. These are sounds that listeners send to us. Things they hear in their lives that resonate. Let's review what we've learned so far.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

We know that people love their animals and the noises they make.

ADAMS: And that when machines go on to fritz, they develop personalities expressed in sound.

NORRIS: More than anything, we've learned that curious and interesting sounds exist all around us.

ADAMS: And with that in mind, today we listen to Mother Earth herself.

Mr. JOHN BULLITT: My name is John Bullitt. I'm a sound artist in Somerville, Massachusetts. And I'm also a former seismologist. I'm really interested to finding ways to hear the natural sounds of the Earth.

What we're listening to is the sound of the earth recorded simultaneously by a network of seismographs around the world. Most of these sounds are much too low for us to hear. They're six or seven or eight octaves below the bottom end of a piano. Since we can't really slow down our ears to hear the sounds, we have to speed them up in order to hear them.

I speeded up the recording so that each second that goes by is about four minutes of real Earth time. Every little click and pop that you hear is actually an earthquake happening somewhere in the world. Or sort of in the background of all of this, there is this wonderful background whoosh, which is just the natural background sound of the planet itself, and that's from waves crashing on miles of coastline around the world and ocean swells pounding on the continental shelf.

These sounds have been going on since the planet was created, and they're going on right now under our feet but we can't hear them. To me, that's just mind boggling and beautiful.

NORRIS: John Bullitt of Somerville, Massachusetts, accompanied on percussion by Planet Earth. That was his contribution to SoundClips. To hear previous items in the series and find out how you might offer one of your own, visit NPR.org.

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