sound + outer space

I've received funding from the Canada Arts Council to meet with astronomers and researchers in order to address a complex question: “If each planet in our solar system were a different room, what would each room sound like?

My research project will culminate in eight music compositions as well as eight open-source VST plug-ins created for digital audio workstations (DAWs) that, together, will consider my question and examine how sound waves might be perceived by human ears as they travel through the atmospheres of our solar system.

 
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL

 

What is an audio plug-in?

A plug-in is basically like a digital version of an effects pedal (i.e. a guitar pedal) that musicians use to alter or enhance sounds. In this case, the plug-ins will allow people to hear themselves as if they were actually speaking, singing or playing music on Venus, Jupiter, etc.

 
Image of Mars 2020 rover courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image of Mars 2020 rover courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

Phase I (Research)

I am embarking on extended preliminary research in order to maintain as much accuracy as possible and incorporate real scientific data into the plug-in designs.

In December 2018, I travelled to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre and the centennial AGU meeting in Washington, DC to interview scientists about how atmospheric density, surface pressure, surface temperature, gas components and weather patterns impact the way sound travels across the eight planets.

I am currently continuing my research from Toronto.

 
Image of Venus courtesy of NASA/JPL

Image of Venus courtesy of NASA/JPL

Phase II (Coding)

I am working with Vancouver-based coder Al Smith to create the eight audio plug-ins. An audio plug-in is designed specifically for digital audio software (for example: Ableton, GarageBand, Pro Tools, etc). The idea is that the source ‘sounds’ themselves will be user-generated, but they will be ‘affected’ by the plug-ins — for example, a user will be able to record their voice and then hear or experience how they would sound on Mars, etc.

Due to the gaping omissions in available evidence and analysis on this topic, my project will also take some necessary artistic freedom through more imaginative and conceptual deliberations regarding the coding parameters, or ‘character’ of each plug-in.

 
Image of Saturn and Titan courtesy of NASA

Image of Saturn and Titan courtesy of NASA

Phase III (Composing + Beta-testing)

I will compose 8 music pieces using the beta-versions of the plug-ins. Each sound piece, like the plug-ins, will correspond to a different planet in the solar system, providing the listener an approximate snapshot of the atmospheric sounds of each respective planet.

During this time, beta-testers from around the world (a selection of composers, musicians and producers) will be testing the plug-ins to assure their functionality and usability.

 
Image of Mercury courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Image of Mercury courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Phase IIII (Dissemination, Promotion)

During the final stage, I will be disseminating and promoting the plug-ins— they will be free and open-source, meaning anyone with a computer will be able to use them.

One of my goals with this project is to increase education and public awareness regarding sound art by bridging the arts and sciences in an interactive way.

The plug-ins will allow electronic/media artists, scientists, producers, musicians, and composers alike to control and modify effects that emulate what audio would sound like if it were played or heard on an another planet — bringing us all a little closer to ‘stepping into’ these faraway planets.