A team of researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology using Kepler Telescope data from two stars in our galaxy has created sounds for a national recording artist.
Over the years, researchers in Georgia Tech’s Sonification Lab (SonLab) have converted numerical data into sounds to analyze stock market prices, election results and weather data. When the reggae-rock band Echo Movement called wanting to turn the movements of celestial bodies into music, SonLab looked to the heavens.
“The Sonification Lab receives a lot of requests to convert scientific data into sound, but this one was truly unique,” said Prof Bruce Walker of the Georgia Tech’s School of Psychology. “It’s not often that we have a chance to help an actual star compose music.”
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 and Prof Walker’s team of students went to work with existing data gathered by NASA’s Kepler telescope. Focused on the binary star Kepler 4665989, the spacecraft 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.
“Those numerical values were loaded into our Sonification Sandbox software to create sequences of sonified musical pitches,” said Riley Winton, a psychology student and leader of the project. “The process put us on the right track. When the band reviewed it and requested timbres instead of pitches, we audified the data.”
In other words, 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 the 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.
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.