Letting the rhythms and harmonies of the cosmos be heard
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 sound and 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.
In early 2018 we 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.
Lately, we’ve been working with NASA to convert data from their telescopes and space probes into music and sound. Our first target was the flaring blazar which was recently found to be the source of a high-energy neutrino from outside the galaxy, a breakthrough in multi-messenger astronomy.
Listen to the sound of the Black Widow Pulsar as it destroys its mate! The pulsar’s 622Hz period produces an Eb note and the flickers are caused by the radio beam passing through the brown dwarf’s tail which acts like a magnifying glass. All sounds in these videos are created with data of the pulsar’s radio emission. In addition to the direct sonification of the radio waves, the percussion is triggered by the magnification events and all the pitched sounds are the pulsar’s (unmagnified) signal shifted to different notes. Is the unlucky brown dwarf trying to signal SOS?
Watch Matt’s TEDx talk Our Musical Universe where he tells the story of how we translate the rhythm and harmony of the cosmos into music and sound while making astronomy more accessible to the visually impaired. He also performs to music of K2-138, a system of 5 sub-Neptune, and throws in a few of his own tasty licks. Please spread the word!
Watch Jupiter’s moons create crazy geometric patterns as they transform from rhythms to notes! Click here for more info.
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. This app was the Astronomy Picture of the Day for April 24, 2018!
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.
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.