The Sonic Cosmos - Tim Shaw, Ryan Collins & Guy Schofield
The Sonic Cosmos is an audio / visual installation modelled on our solar system. The central piece takes the form of a traditional orrery, a mechanical device used to illustrate the relative positions and motions of the planets in orbit. The standard model of an orrery has been adapted to act as a self playing musical instrument which generates its own composition. The Sonic Cosmos project is a collaboration between artists Tim Shaw, Ryan Collins and Guy Schofield.
The ancient concept of ‘The Music of the Spheres’ connects musical theories, philosophy and astronomy, providing inspiration for composers and scientists alike. The philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (c. 570 BC – c. 495 BC) drew parallels between the intrinsic mathematical properties of a vibrating string and the movement of the objects in the night sky. Through his findings, he theorised that the two were aspects of the same universal mathematical law; as a vibrating string produces a harmonic tone, so must the planets and stars as they oscillate through the heavens.
There are two main elements to the sound design of The Sonic Cosmos;
Each planet has a unique sonic characteristic based on its distance from the sun, mass, rotational speed, temperature and number of moons. As a planet completes an orbit its distinctive sound is triggered. This creates an intricate poly-rhythm of sounds; highlighting the regularity and kineticism of our solar system.
The ambient, ongoing sound is composed using actual solar data from space weather satellites and telescopes. Using a variety of data streams, information regarding sunspots, solar wind and solar flares was extracted. The data was then streamed through a specially designed synthesizer to create a composition that represents an 11 year solar cycle. The rise and fall of frequencies, changes in waveform and differences in volume directly correspond to the activity of the sun over this time, where one second counts for one day of the solar cycle.
Traditional orreries were primarily built using handmade brass and steel, this piece is made up of entirely modern materials: laser-cut acrylic, aluminium and electronics. The design principles of traditional orrery making have been re-appropriated in order to unify the concept with its new creative form.
Using scientific information as a basis for composition the piece merges quantitative observations with creative interpretation. As The Sonic Cosmos continues to run, the artistic involvement is merely peripheral and the work takes on its own compositional journey. As with ‘The Music of the Spheres’, The Sonic Cosmos demonstrates the notion of music discovery rather than creation.
This project has been kindly supported by Arts Council England, Northumbria University, the British Science Association and Cycling ‘74.
The Sonic Cosmos Team would like to thank: Dr. James McLaughlin, Simon Henderson, Darren Collins, Tess Denman-Cleaver, Ellen Moran, Dr. Paul Vickers, Dr. Alun Moon, Mark Thurston, Angela Forster, Simon Brooks, Brendan Murphy, Chris Batstone, Farrah Nazir, David Hughes, Karen Marshall, Craig Chamberlain, Toni Hamill, Andy Garbett, Gavin Wood, Sean Mallen and John Shearer.