What does space sound like?

Space research centre’s Leverhulme Artist in residence explores sounds of space and the sun. A free exhibition At embrace Arts, the University of Leicester’s Arts centre, Attempted to Answer what might seem like a very strange question—what does the dark, cold vacuum of space, and the boiling mass of the sun, actually sound like?

trajectory, held on 8th and 9th november, is the creation of Andrew williams, Leverhulme Artist in residence at the University of Leicester’s space research centre.

the exhibition also included two events involving space scientists
from the University:

‘A history of space craft trajectory’ by dr nigel bannister, which explored the history of our understanding of space from newton’s apple to a mission to Jupiter.

‘what has space ever done for us?’ led by Andrew williams, dr John Lees, professor Alan perkins, and professor george fraser, which offered the chance to explore current space research, opportunities for artists and the potential future for humanity through discussions, installations, and informal presentations.

far from the booming space battles and roaring warp drives of blockbuster movies, we think of the airless immensity of outer space as being as quiet as it is empty—but it is, in fact, as noisy as anywhere on earth. but what kind of noise is this?

to try and answer that question with his installation, Andrew williams gathered sounds and data from space—including recordings made by satellites and long-wave radios.

the sound for the installation comes from two main sources:

  • electrons hitting the earth’s upper atmosphere - recorded using Long wave radio by cluster ii satellite on the 9th of July 2001. the recording is entitled chorus. the title comes from the brief, rising-frequency tones caused by the impacts of electrons, which sound like a chorus of birds singing.
  • A deep pulsing sound emanating from the sun, recorded by the european space Agency soho spacecraft and caused by bubbles emanating from deep within the star.

the unique project involved projecting the sounds through multiple speakers and also featured projections of still images and videos on multiple screens.

trajectory developed over the two days—immersing visitors in the artist’s vision of earth, and space, as well as an exploration of current research and future challenges for humanity.

As well as earth’s relationship with the sun and “space weather,” the kind of phenomena that produced the sounds, Andrews’s installation explores the history of our relationship with space from sputnik to the present day. to create the visual imagery for the show Andrew tracked the trajectories of 250 satellites that are looking at the earth.

Andrew said: “The installation itself looks at several aspects of space in detail, whilst also providing an opportunity to reflect upon the future in terms of future space research, the effects of space research upon our lives and the big question - the future of humanity. No answers are provided, of course!

“The sound is what inspired me - once I had started to create audio from space data I wanted to find a way of presenting it Much of the data comes from Satellites (in particular Cluster II) and it seemed natural to find the exact location of this when the data was collected. I then realised that the trajectories of satellites created a transfixing and beautiful visual landscape. It also shows how much—or little of space we currently colonise.”

Andrew williams became one of the University’s Artists in residence in 2012, and began a mission with the space research centre to explore new ways of presenting and explaining scientific research to the public.

having previously worked with british gas and rolls-royce, Andrew’s work uses visual, audio and digital media to produce striking new compositions and interactive installations.

dr John Lees from the University’s space research centre said: “working with an artist of Andrew’s creativity encourages us to look at our research in different ways and poses questions on how it can be explained to a wider audience.”

Andrew added: “If Humanity is to have a future it will not be on Earth.

“We know so little at the moment and some of the answers we get just lead to bigger questions. I think we all find the unknown appealing.”