Audacious with Chion Wolf: Transcript for "Hot Shots: Photography, music, and pizza from inside a volcano"
Audacious with Chion Wolf
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Notation: The audio interview with David Garcia was interpreted by Miguel Martinez.
Volcano, volcano, volcano.
Chion Wolf 00:13
From Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford, this is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. If you're ever in the vicinity of a volcano, and that volcano started to erupt, your first and probably correct instinct would be to run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. But that cannot be said for the instincts of our guests today, each of whom have built careers around visiting and observing active volcanoes. You'll hear how David Garcia uses the heat of Guatemala's Pacaya volcano to serve up his signature volcanic pizza. You'll meet Professor Leif Karlstrom, who combines his love for geology and music to compose symphonies from the sounds of volcanic eruptions. But first, we'll talk to award-winning photographer Brad White, who spent years visiting volcanoes around the world, risking his life to get the perfect mesmerizing shot. Like a retired superhero, Brad White doesn't do that kind of stuff anymore. He's a grade school teacher now in Auckland, New Zealand, but in his previous life, he was lost in his longing to lock his lens upon lava. So what's Brad's earliest memory of volcanoes?
Brad White 01:23
I lived during my my early years in Rotoroa, which is in New Zealand and it smells like rotten eggs. Of course, I've lived there for many years, and you just don't notice the smell. Until you go away and come back.
Chion Wolf 01:42
Do you like eggs rotten or not?
Brad White 01:46
Well, considering free-range eggs are getting really really expensive. Yeah. Which is funny because when I have gone to volcanoes as I grow up, yes, it's that familiar smell, which is quite nice and settling.
Chion Wolf 02:00
So you have grown up around volcanoes and their rotten eggy smell. Why did you start photographing volcanoes?
Brad White 02:12
I was a press photographer, in Taranaki, which there is the Mount Taranaki with Mount Taranaki, which we all lived under, which is a dormant volcano, which might, it's overdue waking up. And, every day you woke up there was a clear sky, you'd see the volcano, it was just always there. And I sort of wanted to move into a, go from press photography into broadcast news. And I met a guy called Jeff Merkley, who was just in love with volcanoes. And we brought up a really good friendship. And I started shooting news with him in Auckland. And we started traveling around the world chasing tornadoes and typhoons and tsunamis. And yeah, and just volcanoes was just a natural part of that. Generally, we got to the stage, if people were running away, we were heading into that direction with a joke that we were volcano chasers. But as my partner would say, they're not going anywhere. And it gives you the opportunity to catch up to them a lot easier when they're not going anywhere. But I caught up with another press cameraman. And we started working together. And he had an idea of going into volcanoes and filming them, and then just sort of using the footage from that to help us get to another one. And I was extremely comfortable in volcanoes. And we were very, very successful when we started out. So I think he had been trying before me. And he wasn't successful, and to get into the lava-like environment until I joined the team. And from there, we just started going to volcanoes around the world. Sounds really, really weird. But it was just, you know, I've been around volcanoes. I've always been intrigued, I guess it's part of trying to get that dopamine hit. You know, I've had roles where it's basically a whole dump of adrenaline. And, and it was it was quite exciting. Going to these places where people would not venture to, would run away. Yet, millions of people around the world depend on volcanoes and the fertile soils to survive. So on one way, I was going into an area, you know, there's only a few of us that we're going to it, so it sort of allowed myself to get photos that are a little bit unique and a little bit different.
Chion Wolf 04:54
You've talked about each volcano having its own energy. I'd love to hear about out what you mean by that, and which volcano's energy captivated you?
Brad White 05:04
Well, I guess every single volcano that you go to has that personality. It all depends where in the world it is. What's around it, the communities, the culture, the people that have around it, that all influences that area. When you get up, and you get close or you get inside, each volcano is different. You know, there are families of volcanoes, each one has little personalities that you notice when you were there for a long time. Marum, which is a, which was a volcano in Ambrym in Vanuatu, which had a lava lake, it was just this immense power, this immense source of energy just coming out of that volcano. And when you wouldn't you look in, it's got this, its own environment, its microclimate because of the toxic gases that are coming out of it constantly. Five days out of the receiving it was pouring with rain up there. You had Pele hairs, which is fine bits of almost like glass floating down.
Chion Wolf 06:17
Can I stop you right there and ask about how you protect yourself because I imagined going up to a volcano and what you just said, it sounds like you could really get hurt. How do you protect yourself?
Brad White 06:29
Yes, you can. Well, I when you go into volcano, you know that you are it, and your buddies around you are it if anybody does get hurt, so there's that. So if you do get hurt? Yeah.
Chion Wolf 06:44
I mean, do you have like some Kevlar something or a helmet or like an umbrella sticking out of your head or something? Yeah.
Brad White 06:51
Yeah. There's there's a company in New Zealand called Pacific helmets that make fireman helmets and rescue helmets. And we went to the factory, were shown around they were developing a rescue type helmet, which they gave us a few.
Chion Wolf 07:07
Does it have some cool like volcano decals on it or anything?
Brad White 07:11
No, as the sulfur is eating away at the, you know, the middle parts of it, and the leather is slowly degrading. But the helmet itself is nice and safe.
Chion Wolf 07:24
So what about your body, like a fireman's jacket or something? Let's talk about the camera gear. How do you protect this, I'm sure expensive, amazing machinery from melting in your hands?
Brad White 07:27
Yes and no. We would have the, we call it a heat suit, or it's called a heat proximity suit. And so we would have it, it would deflect the heat. So it's relatively cool. But if you didn't have that right layer on the inside, your arms would touch the surface of the jacket and sort of burn. We had our gas masks which were which were specific for the chemicals that were in the air with visors. We took all the safety gear, but I always found climbing and abseiling inside the volcano, I would get too hot wearing the gear. So I ended up just wearing, you know, a pair of like military pants that had the hard knee pads in them. You say how do I protect it. I don't think I did a very good job. I think I had one camera that I took in for repair. And when they took it apart, they described the inside as it having being flooded that it having been underwater, that the gases from the volcano had completely sort of rusted up and destroyed and corroded the inside of the camera. So there were things that every time I would go into a volcano, I'd learned something new about the environment and how corrosive it was. I think the last times I went in, I actually had waterproof bags. So I would seal it in the waterproof bags, I would carry them down just hanging off my harnesses. And that would, you know, keep it out of the environment for as long as possible. You know, take it out, do filming. But, of course, you can only do filming for a certain amount of time.
Chion Wolf 09:24
And this is a digital camera, right?
Brad White 09:26
Yes, I only took digital. It would make sense to actually have taken film now that I think about it.
Chion Wolf 09:35
Brad White 09:36
You don't want, you don't want the emotions that have been washed away. But yeah, I've had a camera where, you know, I was filming halfway inside a volcano, I was on a ledge at what might have been, I think about 100 yards inside. And, you know, I quickly turned to grab another battery and as I turned a bit of wind just knocked it over and that went flying. And, you know, hundreds of dollars with the batteries went flying into the volcano.
Chion Wolf 10:03
Do they at least make some cool like explosion noises when they landed in the lava?
Brad White 10:09
Well, if I was that close, yeah. Basically it would go down into the crater, the crater floor, and they don't ever see it again. I've been filming on the last edge, the tougher dam before the, you know, the actual lava lake. And you could only film for a very short amount of time. That particular camera, the LCD screen started to smoke, or started to steam up. And the back of it started to warp, you know. I was holding up a piddly little leather glove, a gardening glove. And I was trying to hold it over in front of the camera to stop that direct heat. So of course, you're gonna do this for a very short, short time.
Chion Wolf 10:53
How long are we talking? 15 minutes?
Brad White 10:57
The actual filming, I would be lucky to do over a minute at a time. If I was able to do it from further back. I could zoom in and do it longer. But when I was on the craters, sorry, when I was on the tougher dam edge, you know, we're talking about lava that is coming out at 1200 degrees Celsius. So it destroys everything. And I'm pretty sure it's destroyed part of my body as well.
Chion Wolf 11:21
Well, that was my next question. Did you ever get hurt?
Brad White 11:25
Yes, I did get hurt.
Chion Wolf 11:27
Tell me about it.
Brad White 11:29
The first time I ever got burned inside a volcano, it was from the fuel that we carry down for the ActSafe ascender which was like a little mechanized winch that we would hold. It was like holding a small Honda engine, and it would attach to the ropes and we would just pull ourselves up out of the volcano using these little motorized ascenders. So of course, you have to take fuel down. This particular time, my partner who got stuck climbing inside, I had to go up take his backpack off him, and I clipped that backpack to myself. His fuel wasn't in the aluminium cans, it was in a drink bottle. And it was put on the side and it poured throughout my groin. And I was halfway inside this volcano trying to work out what this warm sensation in my groin was. It wasn't a good sensation and took a few seconds to realize that it was fuel. And of course, I was stuck there. I had a harness which kept it all pulled inside. And I basically, it took 14 minutes to get out of the volcano and start washing myself down at the campsite that we had at the top of the volcano.
Chion Wolf 12:51
So you had fuel leaking onto your groin.
Brad White 12:56
Chion Wolf 12:56
As you are working your way out of a volcano.
Brad White 13:02
Yes. And then luckily it was raining for most of that week. And I was able to recover purely because I had pretty much like second degree burns on my inner thighs. Which yes, I was wearing a lavalava, which I'm not sure if you know what a lavalava.
Chion Wolf 13:19
A lava llama?
Brad White 13:20
Yes, a lavalava. A lavalava is basically like a, just a piece of material, like wearing a towel at the beach. So you wrap yourself around with the lavalava. So I was airing myself out replacing my dressings twice a day waiting for the rain to stop. The part that was injured the most was where the harness was because that was on my thighs. That's where the petrol had poured. And I was rubbing as I was climbing and getting out. Yeah. So when I got to the top, I just basically stripped off and and just washed myself with as much water as I could.
Chion Wolf 13:57
The world's most dangerous nudist resort!
Brad White 14:00
Yes. And other times I've been inside and obviously, you've been, you're you're inside a crater that not many people have been inside. A lot of them, only we had been inside. So if somebody else is coming down above you, that knocks those rocks down. And so you're watching, you know, these many missiles coming shooting past you. I think the worst one was I was hit in my shoulder as I was trying to move to a safe spot. And I'm pretty sure that I had a bit of a fracture that took quite a few weeks, but we were up there and we were stuck and there was, there was no help. So it was basically, you know, a bit of paracetamol and and ibuprofen and that was it.
Chion Wolf 14:46
We are talking to you because you take great pictures of volcanoes. So what makes a great volcano picture?
Brad White 14:56
I think what makes a great volcano picture is being in a position where not many people are able to get that shot. And with volcanoes that means getting inside and getting up and as close as possible to that lava. You know, I take a photograph. Do I like it, yeah, I'll take another one. So it's just trying it and redoing it and trying different times. One of the closest calls I had was inside Marum volcano where I was just down inside the volcano by myself. I'm pretty sure that the, is it the Toronto needle? Is that...
Chion Wolf 15:36
The Space Needle in Seattle?
Brad White 15:39
Yes. How does it say how tall it is?
Chion Wolf 15:43
Well, since we're pre-taped, and I can look this up, hold on. How tall is Seattle Space Needle? 605 feet tall.
Brad White 15:53
Feet. Okay, what's that in meters?
Chion Wolf 15:56
Oh, 605 feet to meters. 184 meters.
Brad White 16:04
Okay, so the Marum volcano, which was the first crater that I ever got down to the crater floor, the Space Needle could fit in there with another, I would say 200 feet to spare.
Chion Wolf 16:19
And you're alone.
Brad White 16:21
Yeah, with just a little ant at the bottom. And I could, you know, every now and again, you would look up and you would see somebody peering over the crater's edge. And one of these times, I'd actually taken a microbiologist down. I gave him my heat suit jacket. Because I'd protect him rather than myself. Because I...
Chion Wolf 16:41
Chivalrous of you, Brad.
Brad White 16:44
Well, I always found that I'd get too hot. Ironically, I would get too hot. I would sweat sweat too much. And then I'd need twice as much water. So I would climb down with the minimum gear, the safety helmet, the visor, the gloves, the boots, and the gas mask. And this time, he was searching for new lava bombs that had had come out because he wanted to see what sort of life was there. What sort of microbiomes.
Chion Wolf 17:14
Brad White 17:16
Oooh, possible, I'll just nod my head and say yes. He was there. And he was in the water course, out of my view. So I went to the edge and I started filming away, GoPro going, and I had my camera on a tripod. And I was filming away and this particular time the volcano was so active. The lava lake was a lot higher than usual. And it was just like this angry. We were talking about different personalities. She was very angry. And I was watching her bubble and trying to get this footage. And I just heard this whooshing sound as the lava went up, that dropped and then it spat out and shot spatter over me. And it was enough time for me to realize what was happening. And I thought, 'Oh, great, this is going to hurt,' and it went flying over me. I only got hit with one small bit of spatter and it hit my hand and because of the sweat, it just bounced off and felt like a mosquito sting. And I was half expecting, you know, it to burn through my my bag and my my shirt. And it missed me.
Chion Wolf 18:30
I saved the, maybe the hardest question, for the end. Which of the 16 volcanoes that you photographed was the most freakin awesome?
Brad White 18:45
The most fricking, did I get that accent right now? The most frickin'
Chion Wolf 18:50
Frickin'. Yeah, that's it. Okay. You can do frickin' or freakin'. There's no r rolling.
Brad White 18:56
Okay, the most amazing volcano that I had ever been inside was Nyiragongo. And that is over 500 meters inside to get to that crater floor. And I made that dissent twice. It was awe-inspiring, the power. It was the the largest volcano or the, I think the largest in circumference in the world that was still active. And there were like three different levels to the volcano when you're inside it, and to be the only one there. The adrenaline going through. It was an amazing experience. I tried to describe that I was walking over thin crust of lava. And some of that is breaking underfoot. It's so hard to explain.
Chion Wolf 19:56
But we know what it smells like.
Brad White 19:57
We do, and that volcano, you know, others had been there in the past. And so in that aspect, it wasn't a unique place I've been to. But, you know, having such a difficult place to get to, you know, to get to the Congo, we had to fly into Ethiopia. And then we had to go through the border and pay a lot of money to be there, we'd have a lot of fixes. We had hip safety, you know, a security team, just to get there, the United Nations. They helped us to a certain point, we had some very crazy Ukrainian pilots who tried to fly us up. And one thing you don't want is a whiteout when you're flying near a volcano, and there was apparently a lot of chatter in the cockpit talking about where we are and what we're doing. And we came out of that unscathed. And there were rebels out there. United Nations were protecting the population. So it was a very difficult place to get to. The first time I went to the Congo, I said, I'd never ever do it again. The second time, I was like, 'why am I here?' But that particular time was when I was able to get inside the volcano. Get some amazing footage.
Chion Wolf 21:13
Whakawhetai, Brad White.
Brad White 21:19
I love that. Whakawhetai. Thank you, Chion.
Chion Wolf 21:24
We'll have links to some of Brad's beautiful photos at ct public.org/audacious. When we get back, why did Leif Karlstrom and his team turn 10 years of volcanic data into music.
Leif Karlstrom 21:37
We're trying to piece together a story. So listening to it sometimes gives you new insights as to what practices might be responsible for the signals you see.
Chion Wolf 21:48
Plus, one pizza chef became inspired to move his kitchen into a location with a little more heat.
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 21:54
It started when I saw the volcano to begin with. So one day, I decided something beautiful can happen here.
Chion Wolf 22:02
I'm Chion Wolf, this is Audacious. Stay here.
Chion Wolf 22:25
This is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. Today we're meeting people who take their love of volcanoes to new heights or depths. Later, you'll meet a guy who cooks pizzas in a volcanic cave. But right now, I want you to relax. Take a deep breath. And listen to what 10 years of one volcano's activity data sounds like, condensed into a three-minute long song. It's called Hotel Kīlauea. Leif Karlstrom is a volcanologist musician, and associate professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Oregon. And this music is thanks to him and his team at the Volcano Listening Project. Leif got the idea after talking with Ben Holtzman, a colleague who was producing music-like audio from recordings of earthquakes. Now when you think about the sounds a volcano makes, rumblings, spurting, lava flow probably come to mind. But that's not exactly what you're hearing. So what kind of sounds is he interpreting here? So of
Leif Karlstrom 23:49
So of course, volcanoes do make sounds that we can hear. But the human auditory band is sort of pathetically small, right, we can hear between 20 hertz and 20 kilohertz, roughly about three orders of magnitude. And a variety of signals happen outside that band. So the bulking was making sounds of all kinds, some of them directly sort of hearable if you were to speed it up or slow it down. And so some of what I do is simply that, right, like if you if you measure seismic shaking of the ground at a volcano, that typically occurs below the auditory bands. But it's a hypothesis for a waveform, so you could simply speed it up. And then you can directly hear it. Sometimes we might be interested in, in ultrasonic frequencies. And in that case, you slow it down. But that's a particular type of data. And there are other things that are happening of volcanoes that we might want to listen to, which are not simply like oscillatory, like waveforms, and then we have to make other choices about how we turn that into sound.
Chion Wolf 24:53
So for those who may be hearing the music that you've made, and we'll play some clips, they may think 'Oh, that's, that's interesting. That's cool. So what?!' So what? What do we learn from this music?
Leif Karlstrom 25:08
First of all, it might be enough to just sort of say 'that's cool'. And that's sort of the whole point. Actually, that's what music does. You say, 'hey, that's really cool. I'm moved by this.' And that's a whole part of this Volcano Listening Project is actually just making music from volcanic data. If you listen to classical music, you've probably listened to like Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Probably, you know, Vivaldi wasn't taking data about winter and spring as he was composing this music, he was simply just inspired by them, right. And so I think that's a completely valid reason to do this. It is a valid question, what you learn from a scientific perspective. Here, actually, what we're doing by listening to data is we're sort of seeing that data in a new way, or hearing that data in a new way, as the case may be here. Anytime you experience data in a new way, you get new ideas, particularly for complex data that are so common in earth systems. A volcano is something that we don't get to see inside, right, all the dynamics are, are hidden beneath the surface, and usually on timescales that are not on human scales, right, like a major volcanic cycle, not uncommon for it to be hundreds or 1000s of years, even between big eruptions. Volcanoes are very complex earth systems that involve the melting of rocks deep in the center, the ascent, the chemical evolution of that magma is essentially the crust and then a final progression through the surface, oftentimes driven by bubbles. And that happens on a very short timescale, but it reflects this long history, right? And we have not been measuring that history. So we're only seeing very indirectly the dynamics that are going on. Which means that, you know, we're data limited, we don't, we don't have all the information. And all the different data streams that we gather around volcanoes are telling us slightly different indirect things. And we're trying to piece together a story. So listening to it sometimes gives you new insights as to what processes might be responsible for the signals, you see.
Chion Wolf 27:16
So you think it's possible that the sounds and the musical interpretations of them could be part of understanding the lifecycle and maybe the predictive nature of volcanoes if there is such a thing?
Leif Karlstrom 27:30
Yeah, I mean, I think the example that I'll give for that is an analog system. We generally try to find analogs because of this fact that volcanoes operate outside of human timescales. And it so happens that a lot of the dynamics in volcanic eruptions are also at play in geysers. So we have, for example, studied a geyser at Yellowstone National Park called Lone Star Geyser that erupts really regularly, like every three hours, and has been doing so for at least 100 years, people document this. There's a whole community called the Geyser Gazers that do this. So we know this geyser has been very regular. And we went out with instrument, with all the same instruments that we use in real volcanoes, and gathered a bunch of time series. Now we know sort of why geysers erupt. But there are still open questions there, too. What are the physical processes that are involved in the geyser eruptions cycle? And so we turn that data into sound. And there is a great example, you have these different data streams that are each sort of probing different aspects of the system. You have a data stream that was sort of capturing when water was coming out of the geyser event. It does so in a pretty complex way, have a data stream that tells you how the data, the ground around the geyser is deforming. And then you have a seismometer that's telling you high-frequency vibrations that are tracking sort of bubbles bursting and water moving in the subsurface. And those things are interacting in a really complex way to tell the story of how the eruption cycle happens. So, by sonifying it, you hear the relationship between these these things. And it's that's that's a research topic, right? We published a couple of research papers on this using, you know, traditional or more traditional techniques. But you could just directly share that we could have saved ourselves a lot of time, if we'd started with the sonification.
Chion Wolf 29:23
I'd love to hear you talk about the creation of of Hotel Kīlauea. I think that would maybe give people a good example for what we're talking about, what it sounds like. And if you could, kind of in a nutshell, explain the process of how that was made if there is even a nutshell version of it.
Leif Karlstrom 29:39
Yeah, so Hotel Kīlauea is a great example of this sort of crossover between arts or music making and data. The data that are behind it reflect the opening phase of an eruption at Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii that actually spans a decade. So, in 2008, a crater opened at Kīlauea that then hosted a lava lake for the next 10 years, until 2018 when the whole summit collapsed, and that eruption probably people have some familiarity with because the eruption started with a lava flow or a new event that opened in a neighborhood on the Lower East rift zone of Kīlauea volcano. But along with that, there was a collapse of the summit of the volcano. And that lasted several months and sort of ended that erupted episode. But it started way back in 2008. And even prior to that, with a change in the influx, we think, of magma coming in at depth, sort of originating in the mantle. So the data that we we used for that Hotel Kīlauea track serves to essentially document the building up to that point where the crater opens. And so there's there's different datasets that are that are being represented there. One is the sort of slow gradual deforming of the volcano Summit. And we map that onto pitches that are sort of sliding up and down, in response to the ground going up and down. There are then more rapid deformation events that are also sort of pulse-like, their ground deformation, and deflation, inflation events that are likely linked to magma, sort of moving around between subsurface reservoirs at the summit. And then finally, there's a data set associated with gas release at the surface. And that only happened as the eruption was kind of kicking off. And so you have this gradual building that culminated in the opening of the crater and the start of this big decade-long eruption. So again, three different sort of voices, we sonify them in different ways. And that was the data side of things. We then took that track, so three voices and gave it to some musicians, I guess, myself included, and we then sort of improvised to this. So treated it, in that case, took off my science hat altogether. And just asked, What can we make of this musically? And it ends up being, I would say, you know, a bit of an avant-garde music, in some sense, right? It's, it's free improvisation. It's free jazz, in some sense. We had some constraints that we talked about beforehand, in terms of a melodic framework or harmonic framework that we're going to use. But more or less, we're, we're reacting to the sounds that were made by the volcano, in this case, and to each other. And so the volcano just becomes another, another player, another, another voice in the composition. And so from that standpoint, just as just as a piece of improvisation that we made.
Chion Wolf 32:50
In this piece, you have two violins, a stand up bass and a guitar. Why not a arimba, or a toy piano or a pipe organ?
Leif Karlstrom 33:05
Yeah, I don't play those.
Chion Wolf 33:07
But I mean, we could maybe have like a volume two, a remix. If there was a remix of Hotel Kīlauea, what would you like, perhaps EDM, 8-bit, trap?
Leif Karlstrom 33:18
Yeah, I think that's the beautiful thing about this, this sort of approach is that others can reinterpret it. And I would love to see some some other people do this. I'll say that we have been building out other examples of of this kind of performance to volcanic data. It's a project that's in the works. Now, I'm actually mostly done with it. And so we have 12, or 13 different examples of volcanic modifications that I've done this with, not necessarily playing myself, but giving to other people. And so we have everything from from steel guitar, somebody did a sort of composed a poem and saying a poem over one of these things, just a wide variety of different interpretations. And the point there, again, is purely aesthetic, right? What kind of music can you create, and be inspired by this this sort of volcanic data source? It turns out volcanic data has a very musical structure. Often, there's a natural arc of tension and release involved in a volcanic event, which lends itself quite well to music.
Chion Wolf 34:27
What's the difference between a volcano that makes music that kind of sounds like a horror movie, which Hotel Kīlauea sounds like, and maybe something that sounds a little more hopeful or gentle or funny?
Leif Karlstrom 34:41
I guess there's a couple of parts to that. There are some choices that we made in the sonification that lend themselves to a particular musical interpretation. And specifically, I'm referring to the choice of scale that was used to sonify some of the data. So, the choice that we made for the ground deformation data was to map to what's called a diminished or octatonic scale, which is the most symmetric musical scale that exists, it's the whole step followed by a half step, followed by a whole step, followed by a half step, followed by a whole step. It's the least biased, I guess, of any musical scale. So from the sonification perspective, that's actually quite important to me that I'm not introducing artificial biases in the data. But as a result, the diminished scale actually, is a bit of an ominous-sounding scale. It's often used in in jazz, but it's not a, it's not common in like our traditional mediums of Western classical music, or pop music for that matter. Right, so right off the top of the thing, you're, you're given a track that sounds a little bit dark. And then we chose to improvise in a diminished scale as well. Right, to match match that. So there are examples and we've done this, where we make different choices about the scales that are used if I use the Lydian scale or mode, as opposed to a octatonic scale that actually has a much more hopeful connotation to it. And the resulting music has that that vibe to it as well. So it's composition practice, just like any composer does, I suppose.
Chion Wolf 36:25
Leif Karlstrom thank you so much for talking with me.
Leif Karlstrom 36:29
Or it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Chion Wolf 36:32
We'll have a link to more music from Leif and his team at the Volcano Listening Project at ct public.org/audacious. After the break, does anybody want to grab some pizza on an active volcano? I'm buying!
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 36:46
One time I was serving the pizza, and I gave it to my customer and then the volcano decided to randomly explode.
Chion Wolf 36:52
Okay, this pizza may require travel insurance. I'm Chion Wolf, this is Audacious. Be right back. Guess I'd like to order a medium pizza with pepperoni and extra onions. Oh, and I'd like it. Well done. Please. Pick up. Oh, wait, is this the pizza joint in Guatemala where everything is cooked using the heat from flowing lava on top of the Pacaya volcano? Do you do delivery? Okay, let me call you back. This is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. And if you have a hankering for pizza that's been cooked inside a volcano, there's really only one guy you want to order from. David Garcia has been slinging pies on top of Guatemala's Pacaya volcano since 2013. And at first, business was slow as a dormant volcano's lava flow. But now, after repeatedly going viral, business is nonstop like a very active volcano's lava flow. Reservations were full every single day last year. I asked David to talk about how all this came to be. And we are grateful to Miguel Martinez for interpreting for us.
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 38:40
(starts in Spanish before interpreter comes in) So I've actually always loved cooking since I was little. And I have my own restaurant. It started when I saw the volcano to begin with. And I saw guys that they roasted marshmallows there. So one day I decided something beautiful can happen here. And for the first few days, I would go down and I would make pizza for myself personally. So not for any customers or any restaurant just for myself.
Chion Wolf 39:16
I bet that this was not something that you just figured out one day and a pizza came out perfectly. So talk about the process, the trial and error that went into making the perfect volcanic pizza.
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 39:30
Let me start by saying that there is no manual on how to make a volcanic pizza. I made the manual. It took me five years of practice of making pizza in different types of ovens. So I started with a very extremely hot hot hot oven that had like fumes of sulfur. And then I started with a different type of oven that steam came out of it. It was the steam oven instead. And that was the hardest one because it was perfect to make vegetables where they would be boiled instead. But the pizza would not come out golden how it should come out. So it took me a long, long five years of practice on how eating different types of pizza made from the volcanoes and tasting it with the sulfur to see how the people would react to eating them, testing it on myself. And at some point, I used the lava itself, where I put the pizza on the lava. And I would go downstairs, or go down rather the volcano and wait until the pizza slowly with the lava went down while it cooked until it got to the place I was and then I would taste it to see if it needed anything. It needed more cooking, etc.
Chion Wolf 40:42
How does your pizza cooked on a volcano taste different than any other pizza in the world?
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 40:49
So the first thing you're going to feel once you put it in your mouth is an explosion of flavor. This pizza is absolutely nothing like pizza that is from a store. And the reason is because of the way that the volcano has to be an exact temperature and takes the exact amount of length too. So, in a cave, because there's steam coming out from the ovens in there, the whole cave ends up being covered in water. So it's dripping water. I combined wood to make fire with, firewood, and I combined carbon as well as if I was making a grill. And that actually dries up the cave. Because turns out that the volcano’s always blowing air, so it doesn't end on its own. So it mixes all those into the dough. By the way, the dough is all made by herself by my hand and then what we call 'mother dough', because we keep the doughs resting for about four days before we do anything with it. And it doesn't come from any store. So we make it ourselves and we marinate it. And then they also absorb all the fumes from the volcano, plus the firewood, plus the carbon, very distinct.
Chion Wolf 42:04
When I think about being on a volcano, I think, well that's very dangerous. Is it dangerous?
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 42:12
Well, I have two stories. One of them, I was with a family, and the volcano started acting weird. And you get to know volcanoes while being there for so long. So I told my partners, pick up your stuff and let's go. And the mother asked why. And I said please just trust me. Let's go. So we ended up walking away. And as soon as we got to the safe place, the volcano exploded. And those rocks going all around us. And the kids were were like, 'Oh no, we're gonna die.' And it's like 'no, don't worry, we're in a safe area.' So that's one of the stories. The other story was that one time I was serving the pizza, and I gave it to my customer. And then the volcano decided to randomly explode. And when it exploded, there was ash falling all over us like snow. But we're always paying attention to how it's going. And if there's any volcanic activity, so that we avoid dates that there are volcanic activities and it's more active. That way, we can either postpone the reservations people have made with us, or cancel them, depending on if it's very active or not. So we don't risk our lives.
Chion Wolf 43:23
When I look at your Instagram, I see so many people who come to visit and order pizza. How many people would you say you serve in a typical week? And what are these people like? Who are they? Where are they from? Tell me everything.
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 43:38
It completely varies. It depends on the season, we have from 200 to 300 on low amounts, and then on higher amounts we get from 300 to 400. It really depends. A lot of the people that come are students of volcanology from the United States. So they, the school sends them on a trip. And they end up because there's a lot of volcanoes here in Guatemala. And they end up coming to my volcano to get some pizza and see how, study how pizza can be made at a volcano. Another thing that I've seen a lot of is businesses. So big businesses, there was a pharmaceutical business that is worldwide that sent one people from any eight different places on the world to enjoy some pizza, volcanic pizza. And then on top of that, also seeing people from Africa, from Russia, from the United States, from Canada, from islands I've never even knew existed, I've never even heard before. They come from everywhere around the world, and mostly from the United States.
Chion Wolf 44:43
A regular size pizza is $35 a larger one is $55. Is that still the price? Yes.
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 44:51
Now, there is a possibility that when lava starts seeping out, the price is going to go up. But I'm not sure yet.
Chion Wolf 44:59
Have you ever had anybody react to the price? And be like, ah, too expensive?
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 45:06
So I've got a range of people. I've gotten the 'Absolutely not! In America, it's only $7. Why would I pay $35 for a small pizza?' So people that are mostly offended are Italians. Italians come here, and they're like, 'how could you sell pizza for $35? This is so small pizza when in Italia, it's only seven Euros? How can you do this?' And then I got this one person who commented, 'this is absolutely blasphemy to what we do. The reason is we created pizza.' So you come up with this insane, crazy pizza idea, which is genius. You turn our culture around me, you present it to the world, and it's accepted. And then there's other people that come and they're like, this is absolutely too expensive, but I want to taste it. I think it's worth it because there's only one kind of pizza in the world. And then they said, they say that they have never tasted a more amazing pizza ever in their lives.
Chion Wolf 46:12
Now you have spent so long perfecting the recipe, perfecting the methods by which you cook your pizza. But that being said, Is there any other volcano that would be so much fun to cook a pizza on?
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 46:28
Yes, in fact, I'm actually planning on going through all of Central America to Italy, in one volcano each, to make one or two pizzas for each country that I pass by to get to until I get to Italy. Take one or two videos. And then keep going until I get to Italy, make a pizza for them with one of the volcanoes and then get out there running.
Chion Wolf 46:53
So after you finish making pizza on other people's volcanoes in other countries, what next? Would you like to try cooking different dishes? What would you like to do after you dominate the volcanoes in your area and then of course in Italy?
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 47:12
Logistically, it's extremely hard to get the right ingredients for other foods to be cooked in volcanoes. So I don't think that I'll risk that. But for long-term, what I'm thinking of doing is opening many Pacaya pizzas, pizzerias now with the with the name Pacaya pizzas from Guatemala, so born in Guatemala, and then spreads the word around the world so that everyone can have at least or have access to volcanic pizza wherever they are without having to come all the way to Guatemala. So in long-term, I'm definitely thinking of expanding to reach out to the world in that sense.
Chion Wolf 47:50
David Garcia y Miguel Martinez, gracias por hablar conmigo!
David Garcia (interpreted by Miguel Martinez) 47:57
Chion Wolf 47:59
Audacious is always lovingly produced by Khaleel Rahman, Jessica Severin de Martinez, Meg Fitzgerald, Meg Dalton and Catie Talarski at Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford. If you like this episode, you might like the one we did featuring people who fly into hurricanes and chase tornadoes. Or for something completely different, find the one we did about what it's like having persistent genital arousal disorder. You can hear them all on your favorite podcast app. Stay in touch with me on Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok at Chion Wolf, and you can always send an email to audacious@ct public.org. Thanks for listening.