Summer is nearly upon us! I am sure we’re all sharing the same thoughts as we daydream at our desks and allow our minds to wander from the drill rig. Our collective heat-fueled fantasies of course include such relatable musings as
- “Ahh, I can’t wait to waft in the sweet smell of silica baking in the sun and visualize a poorly graded sieve graph whilst cupping a healthy handful of beach sand.”
- “This swimming pool is rather like a cofferdam – in fact, I can picture the beautiful symmetry of a two-dimensional flow net as I lounge in this reclinable floating chair…”
- “I desperately long to replace the rhythmic clanking of the SPT hammer with my chosen soundtrack to the summer!”
And as far as that last common thought goes, I must clarify I would never insult the dependable 140-pound workhorse that drops and rebounds with mechanical fury, disrupting the relative tranquility of highway embankments, earthen spillways, and campus construction sites. Never would I besmirch the SPT!
But let’s be honest for a moment. Summertime and its associated vacations, daytrips, and long evenings presents the perfect occasion to replace our earplugs with earbuds and fully refresh our seasonal soundtracks. In accordance with this yearly act of musical maintenance, I present to you:
The Official(?) Geo-Institute-Sponsored(??)
SUMMER SOUNDTRACK ‘23
For Geotechnical Engineers
(and also Geologists, Geophysicists, Hydrogeologists, friends of the profession, et al.)
1. “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac (from Fleetwood Mac, 1975)
I don’t know about you, but I cannot ethically perform a slope stability analysis without singing this one out loud to remind me what I’m up against. Truly one of the most beautiful tracks written by the legendary Stevie Nicks and recorded by the eminently intriguing British-American rock band Fleetwood Mac.
The strong connection to our profession is obvious enough on the surface. We would like to prevent the dramatic and dangerous consequences of landslides. But dig a little deeper into the lyrics and you’ll find more subtle ties to the geotechnical occupation.
“I’ve been afraid of changin’, ‘cause I’ve built my life around you”
What exactly has Stevie Nicks built her life around? VH1 documentarians have their theories, but I posit that she may very well be talking about constructing foundations on liquefiable sands here. I haven’t read anything specific that contradicts my interpretation. And I think that’s something we could all be afraid of!
“Time makes you bo(u)lder”
Geologic time does indeed make boulders. Precisely how is a question for the geologists, and apparently Stevie Nicks!
If you ever see your reflection in the snow-covered hills - or in your computer monitor as you traverse the empty void of AutoCAD model space – this song belongs on your summer geotech playlist.
2. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica (from The Black Album, 1991)
Geotechs, how do we feel about sand? On a spectrum of appreciation ranging from Anakin Skywalker to Morpheus the Dream Lord there is plenty of room to express one’s truest emotions about that ubiquitous granular substance. I personally was not raised on Tatooine, so I can still get pretty excited about sand. And nothing pumps me up like the iconic riff to Metallica’s heavy metal masterclass, “Enter Sandman.”
At its core, this is a simple riff-driven song about a guy (the titular Sandman) who really loves sand and enters places to talk about it. When I hear it, I always think of a guy I knew in college who would bring bags of sand to parties so they would technically become “beach parties.” He was a Sandman worthy of admiration. He was also the reason we bought a shop vac and still lost our security deposit.
If you find yourself sleeping “with one eye open” because you’re just that excited to start designing a shoring system in coastal sands, you might be a Sandman too. And if you’re “gripping your pillow tight” because you get to give a Friday lunch-and-learn on the perils of static liquefaction, you might be a Sandwoman. No matter what you call yourself, you vibe with sand.
(Also, take this with a grain of sand, but George Lucas writing Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi who “doesn’t like sand” and then becomes the evil Darth Vader seems like an intentional commentary on the morality of soil appreciation. Really makes you think…)
3. “Like a Rock” by Bob Seger (from Like a Rock, 1986)
Despite what our friends and relatives may think, there are some notable differences between geotechnical engineering and geology. However, I believe both professions share in admiration for the strengths of various rocks. When it comes to founding our structures, planning our excavations, and assessing erodibility – among many other applications – we rely a lot on the strength of rock.
Bob Seger, the raspy-voiced Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man himself, makes no secret of his own appreciation for rocks in this reflective 1986 track. In fact, the recurring simile structure of this song tells of a man looking back on his youth, on times he had “never felt that strong, like a rock” who “stood proud . . . [and] stood tall.” As he reminisces and wonders where the time has gone, the listener can’t help but imagine the titular rock: fresh, extremely strong, very slightly fractured, RQD = 100, massive bedding. It can handle extreme loading, and we are grateful to have such a supportive rock in our lives.
When I hear this song, I think of rock core boxes and a particularly moving scene from the 2005 Nicolas Cage (and Michael Caine!) film The Weather Man. I won’t spoil the moment for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, but in addition to being a wholly underrated selection from the vast Cage oeuvre, it features a recurring reference to “Like a Rock” that reminds the audience to appreciate the supportive people and megalithic structures in their lives.
4. “The Antigo Silt Loam Song” by Francis D. Hole (1980)
If you have never heard of legendary Wisconsinite Francis Hole before, I highly suggest googling and digging into his vast body of work advocating for soils. Known as the “Ambassador of Soils” and the “Poet Laureate of Soil Science,” Francis cared deeply about the methods of schooling in soil science and called soil “the hidden, secret friend, which is the root domain of lively darkness and silence.” I truly envy Hole’s passion and word choices.
Francis was a classically trained violinist and put his deep knowledge of melodies to use in his lectures. In fact, he would make different sounds in his songs to reflect the different textures of soils: for example, he would create a “harsh, gritty sound for sand,” a “trill” for clay, and a smooth sound for silt. His unique approach to education engrained concepts in his students’ minds and supplemented his already impressively strong technical dedication. If it’s not clear by now, I seriously admire Francis D. Hole.
His famous “Antigo Silt Loam Song” was written and widely performed to support his campaign to make that soil the official state soil of Wisconsin in 1983. Although Wisconsin was not the first state to name an official soil, Hole is acknowledged as being the driving force behind state-level acknowledgement of soil stewardship through his many lectures and performances.
If you ever wonder how much room there is for creativity in soil science – or geotechnical engineering or that matter – you’ve no further to look than the example of Francis D. Hole, an artistic luminary who engaged students and public audiences alike in thoroughly unconventional ways. Maybe one day there will even be a “Blogger Laureate of Geotechnical Engineering.” Who can say?
5. "Never Ending Math Equation” by Modest Mouse (from Building Nothing out of Something, 1999)
Here I must give credit to Dr. Andrea Welker for re-introducing me to this song from the perspective of an engineer, way back in CEE 4801 Foundation Design. Isaac Brock’s introspective and sometimes solipsistic lyrics on this track conjure up sensations of solidarity with creation and unity with the dauntingly incomprehensible notions of mathematical infinity. It’s heavy stuff!
I mostly think of this song, however, when I’m trying to plug the equation for a Coulomb earth pressure coefficient into an excel spreadsheet. I’ve had many a coworker tell me to “break the formula up into multiple cells” or “literally use any other program” but I – like the narrator of the song – am “the same as I was when I was six years old.” Incredibly stubborn, and helplessly addicted to spreadsheets.
Now we all must ask ourselves: can a summer playlist be only five songs? Does a geotechnical blogger ever over-promise and under-deliver? Does spending your evenings patching up drywall and getting really into the Jeopardy Masters tournament conflict with an ever-growing list of responsibilities? These are the types of existential questions one might ask oneself, relaxing on a beach somewhere, feet driven deep into the warm sand, breathing in the salty air, and dozing off to the ambient sound of seagulls squawking and lifeguard whistles.
You can put Harry Styles back on again, that’s totally all right. But maybe play one of these songs at your next geotechnical get-together?
Listen to the Geotech Summer '23 playlist on YouTube