May 1, 2009
This is clever and cool, although I admit, several minutes of random, dissonant piano notes can wear a bit thin. An applet called “Moonbell” lets you play music derived from topographic profiles of the moon. Altitude data returned by Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft are converted to musical intervals. You can either follow a single orbital track, or play your own tune across the highlands and lowlands. It sounds pretty much the same either way.
Even though it’s not really the same thing, it reminds me of the desperate attempts by space physicists starting back in the 1980s to grab the media’s attention by producing sounds from space. Pretty pictures sent back from planetary spacecraft like Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini were hogging all the limelight, and the poor scientists who studied invisible fields and particles weren’t about to sit back and be ignored. So researchers like Fred Scarf of TRW, who built Voyager’s plasma wave instrument, made little sound tapes to play at press conferences. Later on, avant-garde musicians like the Kronos Quartet and Maggi Payne (see her notes for “Solar Wind”) incorporated some of the sounds into their compositions. Now, with Moonbell, you can create your own music of the spheres. Or make that sphere, singular.
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