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 explore what happens when the rhythms and harmonies of astronomical systems are translated into music so they can be heard by human ears. 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.

We recently developed a sound-based planetarium show Our Musical Universe with the support of the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, the IAU’s Office of Astronomy for Development, and the Ontario Arts Council. This is an audio and visual tour of the cosmos from the night sky all the way out to the edge of the observable universe and is accessible to the visually impaired. It was featured in the Globe and Mail, the National Post, and on CBC’s Metro Morning.

What’s New?

You can now use the Cassini spacecraft to strum Saturn’s rings like a harp! Each of the 2 million pixels of the highest resolution colour image ever taken of any part of the rings is converted to a note based on its brightness. Go on, help Cassini relive its final days with one last song. Click here to play/cry.

Sounds like our solar system is a big Radiohead fan! We’ve converted the motion of the terrestrial planets into music and it appears that they’re playing True Love Waits, Radiohead’s saddest song. The asteroid belt provides the required bass notes and vocals by Thom Gill complete this gloomy cosmic dance. Click here for more information.

The HotPopRobot Maker Family and SYSTEM Sounds have converted the harmonic orbits of the TRAPPIST-1 planets into a cosmic pinball light show! This installation premiered at the Ontario Science Centre’s Tech Art Fair where it caught the eyes and ears of thousands of curious children. For the full story click here.

We have developed a sound-based planetarium show Our Musical Universe which takes people on an audio and visual tour of the cosmos from the night sky all the way out to the edge of the observable universe. It is currently showing at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics’ planetarium at the University of Toronto. For tickets visit here. More dates will be added soon! The artwork features “Myth” by Robyn Rennie, who painted it after experiencing an advanced showing. 

Home

One of the world’s most adventurous musicians plays, and plays with, one the galaxy’s most enchanting planetary systems. Dan Tepfer uses a Yamaha Disklavier in conjunction with his own looping software to record and play back the pitches and rhythms of the TRAPPIST-1 planets. These notes result from bringing the planets’ actual orbital frequencies into the human hearing range. Dan then uses this planetary harmony to launch into his own improvised exploration. Visit dantepfer.com for more.

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.