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Home > iSGTW - 15 April 2009 > Feature - Dante dances to the volcano

Feature - DANTE dances to the volcano


Doin’ the volcano dance. Image this page and previous page courtesy CityDance Ensemble
In late March, an American modern dance company on tour in Cambridge, England, performed to some truly “earth-shaking” music, created by DANTE engineer Domenico Vicinanza. His collaborators in creating the music were  . . . volcanoes from Italy, Ecuador and the Philippines.

Researchers have long sought to predict a volcano’s eruptions by looking for patterns in its seismic behavior. With the use of complex sonification algorithms, Vicinanza found he could take recordings of a volcano’s seismic behavior and translate what he found into audible sound waves, thereby transforming the raw seismic data into something easier to use for predicting eruptions.  

Intrigued, Vicinanza went one step further, using the computational power of the grid to convert audible sound waves from multiple volcanoes — Mount Etna, Mount Tungurahua, and the Mountains Pinatubo and Mayon — into a melody, which he then composed into music for a dance performance

And on March 25, City Dance Ensemble performed to his volcanic music. The dance, titled “The Mountain,” was part of the ensemble’s Carbon, a larger work about climate change. Originally presented in sold-out performances on March 14 and 15 at the Music Center at Strathmore, Maryland, it was later repeated on March 28 and 29. (The dance is also available to view or to download.)

Mayon Volcano, one of the most photographed mountains in the Philippines, is known for its majestic beauty — and its destructive eruptions. It was also one of four volcanoes whose sound waves became music, via a computer algorithm and the computational power of the grid.  Image courtesy Dexter Baldon, sxc.hu 

Songs of the Earth

“As a scientist, it was my priority to develop tools to help us predict eruptions and ultimately reduce the loss of lives,” said Vicinanza. “As a musician and artist, it was a natural step for me to take these seismic sonification sounds and apply them to the arts. I am delighted that the results, or songs of the earth, are being created into a dance performance.”

First of its kind, the computations for the event were run on DANTE, EGEE, and the E-science grid facility for Europe and Latin America, or EELA. (The complex sonification algorithms that convert the seismic data into sound melodies require the power of the grid, as the process would be nearly impossible using standard bandwidth networks or computing resources.) Research and education data communications networks GÉANT2 in Europe and TEIN3 in the Asia-Pacific, both operated by DANTE, as well as Latin America’s RedCLARA operated by CLARA, underpin the immense computing power provided by EGEE in Europe and EELA in Latin America.

For his part, Paul Gordon Emerson, CityDance Ensemble choreographer and Carbon curator, said: “High bandwidth research and education internet networks together with grid computing power played a vital part in making this project a reality . . . the fact that this work uses the voices of the earth from three continents is a very powerful metaphor for Carbon as a project and as a concept.”

Dan Drollette, iSGTW

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