Massachusetts Geophonic

Massachusetts Geophonic is an application by Arvid Tomayko to sonify the geological nature of Massachusetts. Arvid Tomayko uses data from the USGS Massachusetts geological map as a palette on which the user can place markers to ‘travel’ over the map.

This map covers the following data:
  • Bedrock Type
  • Bedrock Age
  • Faults
  • Surface Covering
  • Surface Covering Depth
  • Gravity anomaly (which is a measure of the density of rock beneath the surface)
Mappings, interaction and control
The user can draw up to four paths over the map, upon which a playhead will transverse the map.
The application interface. The four lines are being ‘played’ and the user gets visual information about the geological structure as well.
The user can exert a great deal of control on the mappings, which make it a continuous exploration of the geological soundscape.
As the playhead traverses the map, it reads new data which control the musical outcome. We can, for example, map bedrock type to pitch, so that at every place where a different bedrock type starts, the pitch will change.
Alternatively, the user can set up rhythmic patterns. These rhythmic patterns are a division of the spatial path (and thus playtime) in a regular interval. For example: if the looplength is set at 16 seconds and we set the division at 8, the sample will be triggered every 2 seconds. Rhythm thus becomes spatial.
The user can also set general parameters, such as the master loop length (how long it takes for the playhead to traverse the path), the melodic scale, the key and the overall transposition. These general controls can then be transposed in each of the four voices. For example, one can transpose voice 1 up two semitones and voice 2 up five semitones. Tomayko sets up fixed mapping destinations.
Rock Age determines pitch, and also when to play notes in “contacts” mode. Musical scale and tonic are user-defined. Through the curve value, one can set the exponent of the Rock age against the pitch.
Rock Type (sedimentary, metamorphic or igneous) determines timbre, or instrument type, for each note as follows:
  • Sedimentary rocks are noisy, percussive sounds
  • Metamorphic rocks are a saw wave
  • Igneous rocks are represented by a resonant filtered oscillator.
  • Rock chemistry (mafc to felisc) determines note overdrive
  • Grain size determines tremolo or modulation for sedimentary rocks. This is represented as different shades of blue on the Rock Type map.
  • The metamorphic grade of a rock (represented as different shades of green) determines granular pitch randomness.
  • Faults produce record skip-like sounds whenever a playhead crosses one.
  • Surficial Geology (the surface “stuff” that covers the bedrock) determines the lengthand feedback of a delay or echo.
  • Lastly, isostatic gravity anomaly determines the attack and decay characteristics of the notes.

Areas outside the state or in the ocean will not produce sound. The video below shows how the software works.

The software is free to download here and includes a tutorial to get started.


Tomayko has used this software in a performative setting. It was commissioned by Swissnex Boston for the opening on June 4, 2013, of Swiss Style Reboot – a show of Swiss style infographics at Northeastern University. He has since then regularly performed with it.

About Arvid Tomayko and related work

Arvid Tomayko is a composer working in the field of electronic and experimental music. He creates his won instruments, music software and performs live, and includes real-time graphics. You can buy his work on Bandcamp.

Massachusetts Geophonic is part of his sonification practice, which includes works such as Maestro Frankenstein, a sonification toolbox, and Climate Controlled, an interactive installation that sonifies the climate evolution over 5 million years. I will write about these works in detail in separate posts.




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