Melody made with real stars (the kind in the sky)

A team of researchers in Georgia Tech’s Sonification Lab (SonLab) used data from two stars in our galaxy thousands of light years away to create sounds for reggae/rock band Echo Movement, a melody made with real stars.

Over the years, SonLab researchers have converted numerical data into sounds to analyze stock market prices, election results and weather data. When Echo Movement called wanting to turn the movements of celestial bodies into music, SonLab looked to a binary star called Kepler 4665989.

Although pitches, tempos and rhythms could be created and tweaked, the band insisted that the finished product remain true to all data and feature a musically appealing, “heavenly” sound. With those restrictions in place, the musicians, School of Psychology Professor Bruce Walker and a team of students went to work with existing data gathered by NASA’s Kepler telescope. Focused on a binary star (Kepler 4665989), Kepler recorded its brightness levels for more than a year. The star dimmed and brightened each time its companion star crossed its path, providing varying brightness measurements.

The team played the varying brightness levels as waveforms to create a different sound. The lab then cleaned the signal and removed some of the ambient sound before sending audio pitches to the band. Echo Movement looped the sounds and composed them into a four-part harmony.

For the final step, the students used a different binary star (Kepler 10291683) to adjust the timbre even further by adding a tremolo effect. This created a shuddered, natural sound rather than a flat, computerized noise.

Here’s the melody SonLab created:

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The final result is a melody that will be used in the intro of Echo Movement’s song Love and the Human Outreach, which will be released in September, 2012.

Here’s the intro to Echo Movement’s song Love and the Human Outreach

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Band member David Fowler said:

People have made music with space sounds before, but largely using pulsars and space events that can be recorded in the radio spectrum. We wanted something completely off the chart.

The Georgia Tech team will present the sonification process at the International Conference on Auditory Display (ICAD) in Atlanta June 18 – 21, 2012.

Read more from Georgia Tech

June 20, 2012

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