• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Cosmos Chorus

Air Date: Week of November 1, 2002

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Host Steve Curwood talks with physicist Don Gurnett, who has branched out from his usual studies to make music with sounds he’s collected through the years from space. Gurnett collaborated with composer Terry Riley and the Kronos Quartet to fashion a 10-movement composition called "Sun Rings."

Transcript

CURWOOD: Don Gurnett teaches physics at the University of Iowa. He spent 40 years collecting distant clicks, hums, and whispers from outer space.

[WHISTLING SOUNDS UP AND UNDER]

GURNETT: We just heard a recording of what’s called "Dawn Chorus" which is a plasma wave that’s generated in the earth’s radiation belt that consists of energetic electrons, and these electrons sort of spontaneously get together, and you get these whistling tones.

CURWOOD: Now Professor Gurnett and composer Terry Riley have set these sounds to music.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

CURWOOD: The Cosmos and the Kronos Quartet perform together a ten movement work called "Sun Rings."

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

CURWOOD: Professor Gurnett, what are the sounds from space that we’re hearing in this movement called "Venus Upstream?”

GURNETT: Well, Venus has some very peculiar sounds. When we went by Venus with the Galileo spacecraft, you could hear these rather high frequency, very short kind of notes, and I could hear that in the background there.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

CURWOOD: Let’s listen now to "Planet Elf Sindoori.”

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

CURWOOD: I can hear a pretty strong influence from the Orient in this piece. What sounds from space appear in this movement?

GURNETT: Well, the kind of rhythmic thing in the background, I recognize that as another instrument on the Voyager spacecraft that makes an interfering noise, you know, that kind of ‘bong’ type thing.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

CURWOOD: What is it about these sounds that make them particularly good material for music?

GURNETT: In space it seems that there are all kinds of things that have a musical aspect to it. It varies from whistling tones which go (whistles) like that, various tones with sometimes harmonics like a musical scale. That’s one of the amazing things about space is it just has so much variety.

CURWOOD: Don Gurnett is a physicist and professor at the University of Iowa. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

GURNETT: Oh, you’re welcome.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

 

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an autographed copy of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.