When I was a kid the coolest thing I could think of was the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. I used to say, incorrectly, that it was more than two Everests deep- Mt Everest, along with Rhode Island, being a standard unit of measurement at the time (“If you stood everyone in Rhode Island on each other’s shoulders in the Mariana Trench, most would die in terrible agony!”). Learning more, the ocean’s depths just get more amazing, and more inhuman: mud volcanos, liquid sulfur, CO2 vents, and the weirdest creatures in the world, living endless generations without knowing that humans are walking around arguing about sports.
So it is a particularly childlike and adult awe that greets the news of the first sound recordings from that crushing place. They found, much to their surprise, that it wasn’t silent, and that more than that, they heard sounds from all over the ocean. The area acts as kind of a vast echo chamber, with strange and disquieting sounds rumbling through the darkness.
For example, this is the sound of ship running overhead.
I grant it might not sound like much, but bear in mind “overhead” here is over an Everest’s worth of water.
On their Soundcloud site, there are several haunting recordings, including the plaintive bloorp of a baleen whale. But to me, the most spectacular one is that of an earthquake.
That growl is inhumanly terrifying. It isn’t the sound itself, but what it represents. We’re used to thinking of earthquakes as to how they affect us, the same way we of course think of tornados, hurricanes, huge swarms of locusts, Godzillas, etc. We think earthquake, and we see collapsing houses, broken roads, streets full of misery, and maybe unrushing tsunamis.
But hearing the sound of an earthquake, possibly unfelt by any human, reminds us again how limited is our imagination and how small our experience is in the face of the earth. There, in a part of our world that we barely know, where life exists in ways that seem impossible, and which would kill us without thinking, without being able to think, the forces that have shaped the planet for billions of years and will continue to reshape it after we’ve died out or evolved or killed ourselves off, continue to exert their implacable force. So think about that while trying to sleep.