Saturday, June 16, 2012

Music by Kepler 4665989

I love these odd stories about music that appear in the popular media. Here is a story in the Huffington Post about how "Georgia Tech Scientists Use Star Data To Create Tune." They took observational data from a binary star, the "Kepler 4665989" of the post title, and used "Sonification Sandbox" software in the university's Sonification Lab (which seems to be in the department of psychology) to create a brief melody. A reggae band, Echo Movement, is going to use it to create a song.


I tried to embed the tune, but you will have to go to the story and follow this link to hear it:

I took a minute and wrote it down in conventional notation. Here it is:

Click to enlarge

Honestly, you couldn't get a duller tune if you tried: a four measure phrase in F major, one measure dominant harmony, one measure tonic harmony, one measure dominant harmony, one measure tonic harmony. So, in what sense have "Scientists have created a melody that's truly out of this world, turning numerical data from two stars in our galaxy into music for a reggae-rock band."? Bruce Walker, a professor in Georgia Tech's school of psychology, said in a statement. "It’s not often that we have a chance to help an actual star compose music." Only in a world where almost no-one knows anything about music would a statement like this make any sense.

Way out there in the galaxy somewhere Kepler 4665989 is alternating between dim and bright as its companion star crosses between it and the Earth. The data gathered from this is "cleaned up" somehow and given to the folks at the Sonification Lab where they feed it into their Sonification Sandbox software. Someone has programmed this software to take whatever you feed into it and turn it into trite tunes. The 'composer' here is whoever programmed the software. You can just tell that the Sonfication Lab doesn't have any contact with actual composers, can't you?

So here we are again: another bit of pseudo-science passed off as having something to do with music.

Please, all you evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and astronomers out there, either stop doing these extremely dumb experiments and even dumber 'compositions' or learn something about music.


Nathan Shirley said...

Let's just be glad these aren't the same people building the telescopes and equipment which collects this data. Or heaven forbid, the people who build the shuttles and rockets that carry people into space... if they were, there would have been a LOT more tragic explosions on the launch pad (ie 100%).

Bryan Townsend said...

To be fair, I think the astronomers just handed over some data. It is the department of psychology and their wacky "Sonification Lab" that are responsible for all this silliness!

Georgia Tech may not have a music department, but surely most universities do. They really should be stepping up and educating the scientists trying to do research into music. But they don't seem to be. Instead it is left up to The Music Salon to call foul when these absurdities emerge...

Nathan Shirley said...

Ha, you've got quite a burden then! I predict only an increase in this sort of thing as it seems to always catch the desperate media's attention.