Shake, Rattle And Toll: Berkeley's Bells Play Sounds Of Earth : All Tech Considered In celebration of its 100th anniversary, the bells of UC Berkeley's Sather Tower were programmed to play a score composed in real time by the data from seismic shifts happening under the campus.

Shake, Rattle And Toll: Berkeley's Bells Play Sounds Of Earth

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Finally in All Tech, turning data into music. At the University of California Berkeley, software engineers and seismologists teamed up last week with a composer. They took data generated by the constant rumblings of the Hayward Fault deep in the earth, and used it in a concert. They were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the school's clock and bell tower, Sather Tower, known as the Campanile.

ED CAMPION: My name is Ed Campion. I'm the director of the Center for New Music and Audio Technology.


CAMPION: When I was called with the offer to have the earth play the bells at Berkeley, I couldn't resist. Music has always responded to the emerging technologies of the time. The bells come from the Middle Ages, but we're in the present, and we work with data. And so it's absolutely natural for data to be used as a music-making material.


CAMPION: The Berkeley seismological laboratory is sending us live data feed of the Earth's seismic activity. It's a regular, oscillating motion. And in that oscillation, it's not precise nor is it perfectly regular. And that's what I call musical.


CAMPION: What we're hearing in this composition are two live musicians who are performing on the 60-plus bells of the Berkeley Campanile combined with a special sampled or virtual set of bells that are electronic. And those bells are being played by seismic data as a kind of improvising musician waking us up to what's right underneath our feet.


CAMPION: If an earthquake did occur during the performance, we would hear a wild set of bells.

SIEGEL: The composition is called "Natural Frequencies." Composer Edmund Campion spoke with NPR's Laura Sydell.

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