What does space sound like?

Usually we consider outer space to be a quiet place, this because sound is a mechanical wave, and needs to propagate a physical medium (such as air) in order to be heard. Space, being largely a vacuum, is therefore considered to be silent to our human ears.

Marty Quinn from the University of New Hampshire is a composer who has worked on many sonification projects, from water data radio streams to interactive solar data exhibits. I’m particularly interested in his relatively recent collaborations with NASA to sonify data from their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in real time. Although this project is no longer active, recordings are still available, along with a very detailed explanation of how the project works.

“Our minds love music, so this offers a pleasurable way to interface with the data. It also provides accessibility for people with visual impairments.” – Marty Quinn

Marty’s work is an amazing demonstration of how parameter mapping sonification can be used to create not only pleasant compositions, but also ones with incredibly complexity. This is achieved through the use of very high quality synthesisers and very complex algorithms. One of my favourite features of this project is the mapping of the data to the type of musical scale employed, switching between 5 different scale types.