Lucy Jones

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Dr. Lucy Jones is among the world's most influential seismologists and works for the U.S. Geological Survey, based at CalTech.  She may be LA’s resident earthquake expert, but she’s also an expert in 15th century classical music. She digs into the connection between science and music in her genre-spanning DJ set. 

Hosted by Eric J. Lawrence.

For more:


  1. Pete Seeger - "Down By The Riverside"
  2. Carole King - "I Feel the Earth Move"
  3. Rolling Stones - "Paint It Black"
  4. Vittorio Ghielmi - "Jupiter"
  5. Anne Feeney - "Kilkelly, Ireland"

Eric J. Lawrence: Hi I’m Eric J Lawrence, and I’m here with earthquake expert Dr. Lucy Jones. Lucy is among the world’s most influential seismologists and works for the US Geological Survey based at Cal-Tech. She plays a critical role in making LA safer, but we’re here to kick back a bit and talk about some music. Today we’ve got a handful of songs that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Lucy, thank you so much for joining us.

Lucy Jones: Thank you for having me.

EJL: So what’s the first song you’ve got for us?

LJ: Well, I started in my childhood, which means I go back to Pete Seeger who was my father’s favorite folk artist and I grew up in a Welsh Family, which means music was just there and being sung all the time. Dad came home from work, took over the kids, sat at the piano, and sang us folk songs. And I decided to go with Pete Seeger’s “Down by the Riverside,” because, at the same time my father - but even more my mother - was very active in the anti-war movement. This is the 60s, and she was actually arrested for being part of a requiem mass for the Vietnamese war dead on the steps of the Federal Building. And at that event they sang “Down by the Riverside,” so it brings in both my mother and my father.

Song: Pete Seeger -- “Down by the Riverside"

EJL: That was Pete Seeger with “Down by the Riverside.” Well, what’s the next song you’ve got for us?

LJ: We’re going to hear Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move.” (Laughs)

EJL: Seems a familiar choice I suppose…

LJ: Now I am going into my teenage years and I grew up here in LA and my sister’s ex-boyfriend was the sound man at the Troubadour.

EJL: Ah, cool!

LJ: When I was 15, 16, 17 years old I could get in there for free and I heard Jackson Brown and Carole King and Bonnie Raitt, and Joni Mitchell.

EJL: What was the scene like there at the Troubadour and seeing Carole King there specifically?

LJ: It was amazing. I mean, there was an intensity to it and, at that point, these weren’t big name people. We were hearing them at the beginning. It was an exciting time and it was pretty formative and it was sort of this transition between my dad’s folk songs and the whole rock scene that was really getting going.

Song: Carole King -- “I Feel the Earth Move”

EJL: That was Carole King with “I Feel the Earth Move”, as selected by our guest, seismologist Lucy Jones. What’s the next track you’ve got for us?

LJ: Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Okay now I am going to move into my graduate school years and I had an extraordinary opportunity in 1979. I was actually the first American scientist to go to China after normalization of relations. My grandparents had been missionaries there, I studied Chinese, and so I was able to say, “Oh, well I’ve been studying earthquake prediction,” and I spoke Chinese. I got selected for the very first group. But that really was at an extraordinary time when they were just coming out of the cultural revolution, so there was no Western music, period. So I was actually having an experience of the perfect desert island situation. I had ten albums that I had to pick for the only music I would have for Five months. I took half rock and half classical music.

EJL: How did you come by that particular Rolling Stones song? Was there something about that song in particular that struck you?

LJ: That was the one that I remember sitting in this odd room that I had in this compound for the foreigners to keep us away from contaminating the Chinese. There were some darker moments there. It was very isolating, almost like we weren’t quite human. China was still adapting to the West at that point so the "blackness” was part of that experience for me.

Song: The Rolling Stones – “Paint It Black”

EJL: That was The Rolling Stones with “Paint It Black.” What’s the next track you got for us?

LJ: Now I am going to go into a much less familiar direction. This track is called “Jupiter.” It is an instrumental piece with two violas da gamba. It was the premier solo instrument of the 18th century and it fell out of favor. It’s coming back. And, in fact, there is modern music being written for this.

EJL: Can you describe what the instrument is like?

LJ: It’s like a cross between a guitar and a cello. It’s actually closer related to the guitar so it’s got a flat back, six strings, frets -the same instrument went to Italy and they added a bow and it became the viola da gamba- so it can sound like a cello, but with six strings it has a larger dynamic range so you’ll hear it can be as low as a cello or up you’re starting to get into the range of a violin. There’s a lot more opportunity for chords because of the multiple strings. So I think it’s the most beautiful instrument there is.

EJL: Do you think there is a very close connection between science and music?

LJ: Oh, absolutely. To me, music is sometimes listening to mathematics. I mean I study waves in my science and the equations that describe the revolution of an electron around an atom are the same equations we use to portray musical harmonies. They are connected on that level but I just see a lot of scientists who are also musicians. I think scientists also have a hard time tapping into the emotional side of life. We’re often much more analytic. And music taps into the emotional side and if you’re intellectualization and words are getting in the way of you’re emotions, than music gives you a short circuit back into that.

EJL: Here’s a selection from Vittorio Ghielmi, the track is “Jupiter.”

Song: Vittorio Ghielmi – “Jupiter”

EJL: That was Vittorio Ghielmi with the track “Jupiter,” as selected by our guest, Dr. Lucy Jones. What’s the last track you have for us?

LJ: Well, actually this is about emotional short circuiting. (Laughs) This is a song called “Killkelly, Ireland.” It’s become very popular in the Celtic music circles. It’s a story of a man in Ireland writing to his son in America and it’s very much about the Irish diaspora and the suffering and it’s an incredible emotional tapping into family.

I chose it here because it is actually written by my cousin. He found the letters in his grandmother’s house and this was a song we sang at campfires, you know camping with my cousins we would always sing this. And when my dad died, actually all my cousins came out because he had been the one who sang to the kids. We’re all musicians but he connected with the kids and we sat, after his funeral, we sang every song he’d ever sung for us until we got to “Kilkelly” and we sang “Kilkelly” and we were all in tears and that was the end of the singing. So, music is part of my family.

EJL: Here it is, Anne Feeney with “Killkelly, Ireland,” written by cousin Peter Jones.

Song: Anne Feeney – “Killkelly, Ireland”

EJL: That was Anne Feeney with “Killkelly, Ireland”. Lucy, thank you so much for joining us.





  • Lucy Jones - seismologist and author of “The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do About Them)” - @DrLucyJones