Concerts by two volcanic composers could aid efforts to protect people in risk areas worldwide, say Italian researchers.
That help, however, is unlikely to come from record sales.
"We are talking of two special composers, Mount Etna in Sicily and Mount Tungurahua in Ecuador," researcher Domenico Vicinanza at CERN in Geneva, told Discovery News.
The researchers made the volcanoes "sing" using a new technology that transforms a volcano's behavior into sound waves.
"Different melodies represent various stages of volcanic activity," Vicinanza said. "Our goal is to detect the one announcing an imminent eruption."
Known as "sonification," the technology makes it possible to convert low-frequency seismic waves into frequencies audible to the human ear.
"Sonification...is particularly useful when dealing with complex, high-dimensional data," Vicinanza said. "People find it easier to detect complex patterns by the ear rather than the eye."
Vicinanza and colleagues at the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) first tested the sonification software on Sicily's Mount Etna, Europe's highest and most active volcano. They are now expanding the research to Ecuador's recently erupted Tungurahua.
The researchers used a seismogram — the graphical records of the earth's seismic waves — to score the volcanoes's seismic movements as melodies.
"Basically, we put the seismogram onto an empty score, and overlay the contours with musical notes. The result is a melody which follows exactly the pattern of the seismogram," Vicinanza said.
Though "each volcano has its own music style," the researchers hope to find distinctive patterns in the music of Mount Etna and Tungurahua.
"These common patterns could be the signature tune of an imminent eruption," Vicinanza said.
Since the amplitude of the musical intervals reflects the amplitude of the seismic waves, the music is smooth when the waves are small — indicating that the volcano is quiet. The tune becomes nervous, scattering through high and low tones, when an eruption is approching.
"We can say that the middle part of the piano keyboard represents the safe zone. On the contrary, the higher and lower keys represent a worrying picture," Vicinanza explained.
According to volcanologist Thomas Wagner of the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., sonification applied to volcanoes could be pretty important.
"We're at the earliest stages of predicting eruptions and looking at the specific details of seismic or infrasound could help us," Wagner told Discovery News.