5 Unbelievable Sources of Found Music

All sound is vibration, and anything that can vibrate can make a little music. Join us for a tour of the rarest sounds on Earth, in art, and lost deep in space...

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1. An Earthquake Orchestra

Most sounds made by earthquakes are inaudible to human ears, either too low in pitch or too deep underground for us to perceive. But for seismologists, it only takes a little tweaking to turn the record of an earthquake’s vibrations into song. Take two days of shocks and aftershocks from a massive earthquake in Japan, convert them to audio, speed them up 1,440 times, and you get what kind of sounds like a hailstorm—or a giant baby playing blocks on a tin roof:

2. The Seismofon

The Science Museum of Minnesota’s huge, musical sculpture of xylophones and marimbas chimes in real time to seismic activity around the world. The Seismofon receives data from earthquake monitors all around the world, and converts it to unique sounds based on duration, intensity, and location.  If you feel suddenly at peace while listening, that’s no coincidence. Trimpin, the Seismofon‘s artist/inventor, also calls his creation “Magnitude in C Sharp,” which is a reference to the constant, resonant note that planet Earth is said to hum as it rotates about its own axis. This sculpture is, literally, in tune with the planet.

3. The 500-Year-Old Song From Hell

There’s no dearth of head-scratching scenes in The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch’s surreal representation of Hell: a pig dressed as a nun, a clam-shell turning lovers into pearls, a gigantic mother bird feeding berries to humans. But some 500 years after completion, one of the painting’s scenes recently stoked a fresh fire of creativity: several lines of musical notation, inscribed on a naked bottom.

earthly-delights Bosch-hidden-music

When an Oklahoma music student noticed the notation earlier this year, she transcribed the notes for piano and posted it to her tumblr. The resulting song—a spooky X-Files-esque dirge—gained sudden media attention, inspiring dozens of artists to share their own covers of the song. Below is the definitive version, complete with a chorus chanting. We like to think Bosch would be proud.

4. The Album at the End of the Universe

Floating through space, right now, is an album of planet Earth’s greatest hits. Selected in 1977 by a NASA committee under the great Carl Sagan, The Voyager Golden Record is the world’s ultimate message in a bottle.

Compiled as a sort of introduction to Earth for wayfaring aliens, copies of the Golden Record sit aboard the Voyager I and Voyager II spacecraft, cruising on an endless course into interstellar space. The discs include greetings in 55 languages, audio recordings of Earthly phenomena ranging from volcanic eruptions to a mother’s kiss, and 90 minutes of music meant to capture the breadth of human culture and emotion. It samples everything from Bach and Beethoven to Navajo chants, but maybe the most poignant soundtrack for the eternally drifting Voyager is this wordless blues snippet by Blind Willie Johnson, stamped onto the disc as the epitome of Earthly loneliness:

5. The Humming Border Fence

Across nearly three miles of desert in Nogales, Arizona, 20-foot-tall bones of rebar, concrete, and steel stab out of the sand. To many, this is just one small section of the US-Mexico border fence—but to Tucson, AZ musician Glenn Weyant, it’s an instrument.

“Nobody thought of the border wall as possibly anything other than something to separate people,” Weyant told the LA Times. “I transform it. I play it.” Using mallets, violin bows, or whatever stray sticks he finds, Weyant drums on the fence while recording with a contact microphone (like a musical stethoscope). The resulting sounds range from playful steel drum rhythms to low, haunting drones, and are always improvised. If you’re in Southern Arizona, maybe Weyant will let you join him. Until then, watch him play here:

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest