SYSTEM Sounds

Where the Physics of Music and the Music of (Astro)Physics Collide

Inspired by the discovery of the remarkable TRAPPIST-1 planetary system, an astrophysicist, a musician, and an astrophysicist/musician decided to see what happens when the rhythmic and harmonic structure of planetary systems is translated directly into music. The result is SYSTEM Sounds, a collection of music and animations generated by numerical simulations, real data, and a little creativity. 

Our first creation, TRAPPIST Sounds, was featured in the New York Times, on BBC Radio, and on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks.

To celebrate the end of the Cassini spacecraft’s mission on September 15 2017, we translated the moons and rings of Saturn into music in SATURN Sounds Part 1 & Part 2. Then we converted density waves within the rings into sound waves with interesting results (Elephants? Children playing? A Bomb drop? What do you hear?) and created a piece of Zappa-style music by converting every pixel of the highest resolution image of the B Ring into a duet for harp and drums.

What’s New?

The most famous star cluster in the night sky has released its first hip hop track. Recent measurements of the brightness variations of the Pleiades have shown that these stars pulsate in complex and harmonic ways. We have converted their light curves into sound waves to create an interstellar loop. The ghostly sound that sweeps through is a sonification of the image of the Pleiades and its dramatic reflection nebula. Click here for more information.

Want to learn more about the deep connection between music and astronomy and the stories behind some of our space music? Check out Matt’s talk at Hart House Orchestra’s performance of Holst’s The Planets or his longer talk at the Ontario Science Centre’s Saturn Star Party. For the latter, he’s joined by Andrew for a live performance of Saturn’s B Ring, for electric guitar and Rhodes. 

The harmonic series forms the basis of musical harmony and rhythm and now you can hear it played by a hypothetical planetary system! Click here for more!

A new, fully narrated video that explains the marvellous music of TRAPPIST-1 and how it keeps the system from destroying itself. 

You can now play the music of the TRAPPIST-1 system any way you want by simply pressing buttons in our new web application. Click the image to begin creating your own space music and record a screen capture to share your work. We’d love to hear it!
We have refactored our open-source code so that it is more easily extendable, and added several examples to work from. It is now easier to take new ideas and customize your sonifications/animations. We’re using the new code for some exciting projects, and would love to hear what you come up with! Click the image to access the code through via GitHub.