The effect of the Foo Fighters on the human body and seismic activity

By Anna Sandiford 17/12/2011

How does a rock concert affect the human body and how much seismic activity does such a concert produce?
Not technically forensic science this one but interesting nonetheless for those of the population who attend rock gigs and are interested in seismology and medical issues.

In terms of seismic activity, the answer is that a concert produces enough to be detected by seismic detectors. The Institute of Geologial and Nuclear Sciences Geonet seismic detection system picked up the rock concert of the Foo Fighters at Western Springs in Auckland on December 13th.

Given that I was at the concert, I can say that it was utterly awesome because the Foo Fighters are one of the great stadium rock bands, so I’m not surprised the vibration could be detected by Geonet.  Presumably the underlying bedrock will affect the transmission of these relatively small amounts of vibration activity.

The Shaken Not Stirred blog shows that it was almost possible to detect individual songs and that the vibration was probably the result of fans dancing and less of a contribution from the sound system.


I’m not sure about that but, to be sure, you’d have to compare the play list with the seismic results: some songs such as Everlong don’t (at least initially) require huge amounts of dancing about whereas White Limo is far more full-on.  The vibrations increased from 8.20pm, which was when the Foo Fighters came on stage, but it looks to me like there were some detectable vibrations prior to that, presumably relating to the three support acts.

When at rock concerts that are usually heavy on the bass (marvellous!), there are often several effects on the human body. My assessment of the effects is entirely non-medical and based purely on personal observation and anecdotal information from friends.

The effects of concerts are partly based on vibration, which should be related to the vibration detected by Geonet’s Auckland volcano seismic network; the two sensors that recorded the data from the Foo Fighters gig were boreholes located at Herne Bay and Eden Park.

A good concert not only has to be by a band I like but it also has to have the right balance of vibration/sound: too little bass and it’s not enjoyable because there’s literally no feeling of being part of the event; too much bass and it causes such strong vibrations that it can make me feel sick and detracts from the music. There’s nothing worse than having got close to the front of a gig to see the band up close just to find that the vibration is so strong that it makes me feel naseous to the extent that I have to move back.

The three reasonably unscientific methods I use to assess the volume of any concert I attend are: vibration of internal organs during the event, muscle ache in limbs and ringing of ears post-event.

The Foo Fighters Auckland gig this week registered some good bass but I couldn’t feel my internal organs bumping in time with the bass, which is what I felt at, for example, Donington Monsters of Rock in years gone by. I don’t know if this is a function of the fact that the Foo Fighters’ event was held close to the zoo and distress levels for the animals needed to be minimised but I definitely couldn’t feel my skin and subcutaneous fat vibrate with the bass (I don’t have large amounts of subcutaneous fat, just for the record). Given that I am some years older than when I first started attending concerts, I would have expected that skin and flesh to vibrate more readily these days than when I was in my teens.

Muscle ache was present for a few hours in my legs after the Foo Fighters concert whereas as for concerts much heavier on the bass, this would usually produce a tingly sensation on the skin of my arms and legs in particular for the following 24 hours. Again, given my age, I would have expected to have felt more tingling these days than in the previous 20 years.

My fingers swelled up, which is not unusual. In the past, this may have been the result of poor circulation but this time round, I think it was the result of lots of hand-clapping.

In terms of my ears ringing afterwards, that wasn’t a problem at all: by the time we had walked up the road about 500 m after the event, all was good. Again, compare that with days gone by when they would have been ringing for many hours, especially after I went to bed. Maybe I’m getting more deaf, which is why it was less of a problem.

Overall, I left the venue after 4 hours of standing up in slight drizzle feeling as though I’d seen a damn fine concert but not feeling totally physically assaulted. What would be interesting to see would be the seismic records from the monitoring stations after other bands have played. At what point does the sound system get overridden by the dancing? Head banging doesn’t really require much foot movement – these are the more full-on tracks that are often characterised by heavy bass guitar and drums. How about the drum solo?

What would be the difference between, for example, Michael Buble and Metallica?

I volunteer to attend the latter but someone else will have to go to the former.

…and, of course, if a repeat experiment is required for the Foo Fighters’ next tour, I’m happy to help.

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