Last year our program embarked on an exciting new project to capture the soundscape from the deepest ocean abyss. At nearly 11 km, Challenger Deep is a unique hadal zone located in the southern portion of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific. The remoteness of the area combined with pressures reaching 16,000 psi and temperatures near freezing, have maintained the mysterious nature of Challenger Deep. Earlier posts describing details from our expeditions outline some of the adventures and challenges we encountered along the way to a successful three week long, continuous underwater acoustic recording in the deepest point on Earth.

Top pair of floats going in.
Top pair of floats going in.

There is significant public interest in this work. Bringing back information from a place only a handful of people or instrumentation have ever been ignites feelings of exploration and curiosity in many. Using sound clips from some of our data that was released to the public earlier this year, a composer, Costas Dafnis, from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was inspired by the underwater acoustics of Challenger Deep to create Mariana. Click to notes below to listen to the science inspired art and live performance of Mariana and the program note below describing this piece in Costas’ own words;



In March 2016 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released audio captured by a specially designed hydrophone that had been lowered very slowly to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, an area called Challenger Deep. The recordings revealed a surprising amount of noise both from the ocean floor and carried underwater from miles away.


Mariana uses Max to process the original NOAA audio, freeze a series of tiny grains of sound (approximately .01 of a second) and apply a shaped envelope to it. This is looped and repeated quickly to make it resemble one continuous drone. The granularity forces the ear to isolate just a few pitches at different hierarchies, but because of the nature of organic sound the complexity of these drones can be phenomenal.


The singer gives voice to Tennyson’s 1830 poem of despondent isolation and hopeless abandonment by carefully listening to the drones, determining a fundamental, overtones, and timbre and following a score written intervallically relative to characteristics of the surrounding sound world. An experiment in both responsive and intentionally non-responsive interplay between human and generated sound, each performance will be vastly different as it is practically impossible to recreate a drone exactly after it is passed and singers may perceive the same drone with slightly different sonic hierarchy.


Costas also sent along a rough score (click the link below) of the piece that was performed at the workshop in San Francisco in May 2016.


A beautiful example of  the synergy that exists between art and science.

Thank you Costas for sharing your art and inspiration.