Music in the Stars – Revitalized Inspiration – Anne Katherine

To be perfectly honest, on Monday of this week I was feeling entirely uninspired. Yes, I was still fascinated by the work that I was doing, but felt at a loss for a next step in terms of composition. I did some valuable work on my paper but as working on a research paper is not the most exhilarating experience, Monday felt dry. Last week I sent an email to my music mentor, James Ra inquiring about what my next step should be in making the “computer music” that I currently have into something pleasant to listen to. While I have read music extensively, reading music and composing it are shockingly different. I was lost.

Knowing that I could not allow this feeling of dullness to continue, on Tuesday I decided to scan through the vast expanse of the world wide web looking for Music/Astrophysics combinations that would inspire me. What I found was extraordinary. I had of course done this search before but had somehow managed to miss Dr. Wanda L. Diaz Merced‘s work, Star Songs on the music of x-rays coming from interstellar space. Here is a quick introduction of Merced’s work taken from her website,

“This is a story of how cosmic x-rays became music. A first step turned x-rays emitted by the binary system of EX Hydrae into sounds. A second step made these sounds into music.”

The music Merced has produced is breathtaking. After going blind in her mid twenties Merced was determined to continue her research in astrophysics. For years she tried different approaches of analyzing data without the seemingly vital sense of sight to no avail. Then in 2005 Merced had a breakthrough, the x-rays she had been attempting to analyze without sight could be listened to and potentially even made into music. Listen to her speak about her experience here.


Merced at NASA Goddard space center

I found two parts of the Star Songs project especially compelling. The first is that in order to create a piece, Merced took a small snippet of her data set in order to create a recognizable melody. I have started experimenting with using this model in my own work. I believe that with the repetition of a small part of a data set, the sound I have produced will become ordered music and have the potential for many different adaptations of style.

Secondly, I was roused by Merced’s use of her music as a tool in analysis. This idea opens up an exciting new area of study for Music in the Stars. Lyman-alpha forest data will surely be difficult to quantize in this way but I am thrilled to have a new scientific direction. The analysis of Lyman-alpha forest data through music has never been attempted and if I am successful in my endeavors, I could discover a useful tool in Lyman-alpha forest research.

Clearly, the sensation of dullness was short lived; now, at the end of the week I have as much drive as ever to discover what hidden secrets the music of the Lyman-alpha forest may hold.

Until next time, stay inspired!

Image citation: Dunbar, Brian. “Summer Intern from Puerto Rico Has Sunny Perspective.”NASA. NASA, 28 Apr. 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.

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