‘Newton constructed the colour music disc dividing the spectrum into the seven colours, ROYGBIV, to be fitted in between the eight notes of an octave. The colour music disc in “Opticks” analogizes music to colour, just as its prototypes (of Plato, Ptolemy and Kepler) had connected music to planets and other qualities’ (Niels Hutchison, Colour Music: Music for Measure, 2004 http://www.colourmusic.info)
In OPTICKS I am equally interested in experimenting with sounds as well as with images. During the development of the project I have been working with various sound artists, musicians and sound physicists in order to make each live performance an unique event.
OPTICKS for Global Astronomy Month 2011 featured live and/or pre-recorded image sonification using Design Rhythmics Sonification Research Lab methods which convey image pixel color, brightness and location through musical encoding. Created by sonification researcher and musician/sound designer Marty Quinn, pixel color is translated into one of nine instruments and pixel brightness is conveyed through one of forty-three pitches or 6 octaves in various musical scales, and using massive numbers of synthesizer voices. In this manner, those who are blind can perceive important qualities about the composition of each image, and those who can see are surprised to hear information in the image beyond what they can see! The sonification designs were developed as part of the NASA funded interactive exhibit known as Walk on the Sun, which featured the ability to walk/dance/move over imagery from NASA’s STEREO space mission about the Sun, as well as images of deep space from Hubble and Chandra, and hear the pixels and movies as music. For more information, visit www.drsrl.com.
For the OPTICKS performance in Wilnis, presented in collaboration with the Holland Space Center and ESA, I composed a sound score in collaboration with sound engineer Fabio Santesarti, using the sounds produced by the MMSSTV software while reconverting the radio signals into the original images.
This show was introduced by live sounds from Deep Space captured by the Dwingeloo antenna pointing at the Moon.
Enrique Tomas (www.ultranoise.es) played a live sound score at the Amsterdam Planetarium.
I asked Enrique to compose a seven minutes sound score especially tailored for the frequencies used in EME and based on Newton’s colour music disc, combining each colour with a specific musical note.
The original sound score lasts seven minutes and it has been bounced off the moon by the Dwingeloo team.
In Enrique’s words:
At least for me, not having absolute hearing or synaesthetic condition, if light has colours then sound possesses tonality, being it musical or not. For each one of Newton´s colours I have composed a short sound work based on the tonal intervals of our Western´s musical scale. The structural principle is the sequence of notes, arranged in a way that produces a total neutral harmony. Then, each piece uses a different sequence evoking a new sound tonality. Over this basic principle I have included some artifacts (or tonality artifacts) for extending timbre and rhythm. All these seven parts of the composition don´t have a defined starting or ending point, we just perceive them during a particular window of time, being conceptually infinite in duration.
From another point of view, the specific specifications of the project, with a maximum length of each piece of 72 seconds, a reduced spectrum between 400 and 2800 Hz and a monoaural playback were an important constraint. Also I took into account the fact that my audios will be distorted due to the transmission through the atmosphere, the vacuum space and the reflection on the surface of the moon. My objective then became the creation of an audio playground for artifacts, both natural and artificial, playing together over an infinite sequence of notes layer.
Background image courtesy of JAXA/NHK