Since the 1970s, scientists have tracked significant changes in earthquake activity (1). Despite a growing discourse around environmental issues and climate change, behavior change in relation to these events is notably absent. Individuals develop socio-psychological denial mechanisms to justify why they should not act to mitigate climate change by emphasizing doubts regarding the immediacy of personal action when the effects of climate change seem uncertain and far away (2) and underestimating the danger of environmental events they have never experienced (3).

Subsoma attempts to make real these perceptually abstract external environmental forces via depersonalization and control of the human form. Surrendering control to seismic events, the performer is in a state of submission to the earth and the body becomes a micro landscape of seismic ruptures and fractures.

The removal of human agency provides an escapist response to the problematic nature of selfhood and responsibility (4). The decision-making aspect of the self is inhibited, thus releasing the performer from the burdens of agency and responsibility.

The dissolution of the boundaries of self and environment created by subsoma makes room for new construction of meaning by questioning metaphysical assumptions affirming the existence of an intentional inner self, and the physical realm as an expression and reflection of this.

muscle control

Seismic data controls motor function in subsoma via electrical muscle stimulation (EMS). The seismic audio files are interpreted in Max/Msp to control EMS hardware via midi, sending electrical impulses to nerve points on the performers body and triggering involuntary muscle movement. The amplitude of the seismic waveform controls the pulse rate (hz) of the electrical impulse sent by the EMS hardware to the nerves, so that the intensity of seismic activity corresponds to magnitude of muscular response.


1. Brantley, Lowenstern, Christiansen, Smith, Heasler, Waite, & Wicks (2004) Tracking Changes in Yellowstone’s Restless Volcanic System. U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY. University of Utah.

2. Stoll-Kleemann, O’Riordan & Jaeger. (2001) The psychology of denial concerning climate mitigation measures: evidence from Swiss focus groups. Global Environmental Change , Volume 11, Issue 2, 107-117.

3. Marx, S.M., Weber, E.U., Orlove, B.S., Leiserowitz, A., Krantz, D.H., Roncoli, C., & Phillips, J. (2007). Communication and mental processes: Experiential and analytic processing of uncertain climate information. Global Environmental Change, 17(1), 47-58.

4. Roy F. Baumeister. (2001) Social psychology and human sexuality. Psychology Press.

Subsoma (2010) explores human interaction with the environment in a performance where movement in the human body is controlled by seismic activity. Sonified seismic data generates involuntary movement in human performers via a MIDI controlled electric muscle stimulation device.

Subsoma speaks to human reliance on data, its transmission, interpretation and impacts.  It endeavors to raise awareness of both the utility of information and the lack of agency we have in respect of global systems.

Performance at Powerhouse Museum Sydney (2010)
Photo Credit: Geoff Ambler

Supported by The Australian Government through National Science Week

many thanks to Alex Davies, Stock, Richard Allen and Kerri Ambler for assistance developing this project

Sonified Seismic data, used to trigger involuntary tremors.


The seismic data used in subsoma is collected via the Earthquake Data Portal and converted to an audio file using a program developed in Python. The sample rate of the audio files generated from the collected seismic data varies from 1hz to 40hz per second, depending on which station they were collected and the resolution of this information. The human audio spectrum ranges between 20 Hz – 20 kHz, which is much above the spectrum of seismic waves. When the time axis of a seismogram is compressed by about 2000 times it become audible. The waveform data used in subsoma was resampled at 2205hz