Voices from the Noosphere is a sonic sculpture intended both for appreciation by human audition, and for interstellar transmission across electromagnetic frequencies. The source material for Voices from the Noosphere is derived from the radio signals of cosmic phenomena such as pulsars or solar flare activity, combined with the representation of humanity as found in cultural expressions in sound.
'Voices' explores the idea that research into sound use can derive some generic information about what it is to be fundamentally human. The sound of a didgeridoo is a source sample, because the partials and drones of that instrument seem to map intuitively to the rhythms of the body. Breath, pulse, eyeblinks, synaptic twitches, eat and sleep, birth and death.
This musical, sonic material is combined with data received from radio telescopes directed towards cosmic objects. The corresponding output can either be performed for a huamn audience, or transmitted outbound into space as a counterpoint to the original astronomical event.
The concept of the Noosphere incorporates all mindful, reflective and expressive gestures of intelligence that accrete around the Gaian substrate. The Noosphere includes all terrestrial voices of intelligence – Homo sapiens and others. With the development of broadcast technology, the web of our expression now extends to space. This project allows for a gesture of intent and beauty to be raised as counterpoint that is reflective of a human response to the cosmos.
The heavens have inspired music for as long as homo sapiens has made note of the powerful resonance between our body, our environment, and the sounds created by each. The aboriginal didgeridoo is used to contemplate Dreamtime, a place modern science is cautiously approaching through quantum physics. Medieval European theorists posited the Music of the Spheres as a mode for creation. Into this new millennium, composer Terry Riley and the Kronos Quartet have incorporated NASA recordings of space artifacts into recent performances, and the artifacts of radio astronomy continue to inspire and challenge artists.
Voices from the Noosphere lies within this tradition of exploration, contemplation and representation.
Sonicism is a thought model: a subset of a broader complex of ideas that explore the essentially vibratory notion of reality.
- A waveform in one medium holds meaning in a second.
- Sound represents the interstice of physiology and cosmology
- Experience is a standing wave, a habit of creation and it's creatures
Sampling technology allows us to interrogate the sonic phenomenon in ways that expand the sense perceptions generated by evolution. We can use software to derive partials based on a sampling window smaller than the perceptual limits of our ears. Surprising the expectations of the cochlea, the recently emerged sonic event sends shivers through the nervous system: physiology intersects cosmology in sound. The source becomes a window to the sub-heard sound, sonicisation of emotion, spatialization of physiologic events.
Sound use is pervasive in human culture across time and place. Each culture has directed technology towards a deeper understanding of sound, a closer touch with the sonic landscape. Instruments, carefully tuned and calibrated; special locations, either temple or stadium. This sonic landscape includes the sounds of living, working and playing; it measures the pulses of our life forms, and it registers the immensity of the divine as reflected in cosmology. Human sound use is a mediation of our connection to both extremes of perception and thought.
Space art, in the medium of sound, is part of a broader modern aesthetic based on digital representation of sound. In this context, music is not limited just to music inspired by the stars - by the cosmos as metaphor, but rather a craft that uses the structures and meaning inherent to scientific data.
But to view this as a solely modern phenomenon is to miss a body of work from medieval times that is as technologically evolved as a contemporary digital sampler, and rich with meaning for the modern aesthetic of space art. If the digital sampler allows us to interrogate the sonic event at a microscopic level, then the cathedral expands the sonic event against the measurement of time. The digital processor refines our perceptions and places our ears on the same level as transient, quasi-subliminal partials. The cathedral amplifies, echoes and expands those same sonic elements until the are on par with our unmodified ears. Both technologies place the sonic event outside of the unmodified perception of chronological time.
At the compositional core of the project are code components written in cSound that extract envelope information from the radio signal sources. This envelope data can be used as a base for physical modeling of new sounds, related to the original but undergoing progressive sequence of morphing. This new material plays as counterpoint to the source, creating a polyphony of human and interstellar gestures.
A software patch written in cSound uses granular synthesis and the envelope information from the didgeridoo combined with a sonicisation of data received from a pulsar. This generates an audio output file that can in turn be represented in the magnetic spectrum and transmitted outbound to target stars. Sound is a wave phenomena that can be represented mathematically using Fourier analysis as a frequency spectrum. A frequency spectrum shows the amplitude of constituent harmonics in a window of time. Sound is a wave in the medium of air.
Cosmic events generate electromagnetic waves, which are phenomena that can also be represented mathematically. The frequency spectrum allows us to interrogate the cosmic environment in the same language as we use to describe sonic experience. This potent intersection of science, art and experience is at the core of the piece.
The representation of electromagnetic frequency in the sonic spectrum is not unusual: recent results of helioseismography (http://www.spaceweather.com/glossary/farside.html ) have been transduced into audible spectrum. Indeed, the lowest sound wave has been identified - as a b flat - , suggesting that although sound will not travel through the vacuum of space, our universe resonates with meaning ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3096776.stm ).
Using a live radio source via an Internet feed (for example RadioQualia), that signal becomes the first of two audio signals.
If a real time feed is not available for this installation, then a longer pre-recorded data stream can be substituted.
The didgeridoo sound acts as a controller, modifying the underlying envelope of the pulsar. The didgeridoo performance is the second of two audio signals.
Both audio signals will input to a Macintosh computer running SuperCollider and cSound - both open source software applications used for powerful sonic manipulation.
The output of the Supercollider/cSound code process will be amplified and played into the space of the installation. The installation will present a counterpoint of some cosmic phenomenon and the voice of human consciousness, represented in this case by the didgeridoo.
The didgeridoo performance will be the primary visual cue for audience members. The output is presented via speakers placed through the space. The vibe should be one of peace, tranquility and contemplation. Lights should be low. Visual images should be related - the piece should be performed in an open area of the gallery allowing audience to move in and out of contact, while also witnessing any related visual themes presented by the gallery.
Proof of Concept
The following proof of concept uses short samples to demonstrate the steps involved in realizing the piece. Each frequency spectrum graph is a thumbnail that can be enlarged by clicking.
1. A short sample of a pulsar represented as sound. Download the sound file, and compare along to the frequency spectrum. In the installation, this would be a real time feed from a telescope source (perhaps Jodrell Bank, or the Radioqualia installation).
2. Didgeridoo input. Note the complex overtones, above the geometric presentation of fundamental drones. The Frequency spectrum clearly shows the multi-layered patterns and resonances within this most ancient of instruments.
3.Contrapuntal output. Observe how the shape unfolds to include the drone of the didgeridoo interpenetrating the solid shape of the pulsar.