Sonics of Rupture: Listening to Anthropogenic Earthquakes 

Sterling Mackinnon, Oxford University & Marleen Boschen, Goldsmiths, University of London

This project was supported by a CHASE Climate Justice Network Small Grant.

Sonics of Rupture is a collaborative project about giving sound, and voice, to human-induced seismic activity and its environmental resonances. Tracing the tremors caused by hydraulic fracking in Lancashire in 2019, Sonics of Rupture is a speculative sound piece exploring themes of geological time, trauma, and the effects of seismic disturbance and activism.

The seismic activity around Preston New Road in Lancashire was a result of a hydraulic fracking operation, well construction, and drilling by the mining and shale gas exploration company Cuadrilla. After increasingly strong earthquakes occurred in the summer of 2019— and in response to persistent protests throughout the fracking activity—the site was shut down in late 2019. What are the afterlives of these disturbances?

This project uses a mixture of methods including field recordings, interviews, speculative narrative, and the translation of seismic monitoring data (miniSEED files) into sound (.WAVs). 

We gathered field recordings near the Cuadrilla exploration site, which to date is still closed off with security fencing. We recorded underwater sounds with a hydrophone (an aquatic microphone) in the brook that passes the site. When fracking was active at Preston New Road wastewater was discharged into the brook, making it an interesting place for exploring what happens to the remnants of extraction and where they are carried. We also recorded underground sounds in the dunes and beaches of St. Annes, which is where the earthquakes were most felt, due to the sandy ground beneath this coastal area.

Image: Seismic monitoring image of the largest fracking related earthquake that occurred at the Cuadrilla exploration site.

To better understand how the protests and earthquakes affected the fracking activity we spoke to Barbara Richardson and Nick Danby from the activist initiative Frack Free Lancashire. Fragments of these interviews are included in the Sonics of Rupture sound piece below.

To process the seismic waveforms as sonic information we contracted the services of Isaac Clarke from Black Shuck. Using Google Colabs, Isaac coded a script in Python which is also linked here

Outside of resolving in a series of sound pieces, part of what Sonics of Rupture also suggests are novel methods for researchers engaging with not only seismic monitoring data, but with data from across a range of environmental studies. It is particularly interested in the data archives associated with environmental collapse and is further interested in how these archives can be subverted towards new forms of understanding and affective experience.