In the latest take on sonifying data in musical form, iPhone app Astro Cantus plots star data from the universe as musical notes. It turns the the sphere of heavens above the Earth into a massive piano roll.

Co-founding developer Rocky Alvey, according to the creators, dismantled a music box as a kid, and that music box notion (yet again) is a big part of the concept here. What’s notable is that the app’s sonification does indeed represent not only the stars themselves but some of the data – spectra of the stars are translated into pitch. And there are a lot of stars in there.

The musical representation itself is a bit limited: you get either chimes or a piano playing a pentatonic mode, and some control over spectrum and magnitude. Speaking as a composer who has occasionally played with it, that’s the challenge with this sort of work: making musical paradigms represent the data is no small obstacle. But the developers also say this is just a (very pleasing) first step, with more interactive features and live modes and additional sounds and scales to come.
US$1.99 on the App Store

Amusingly, I’m writing this as my KCRW music stream is playing Bill Frisell’s cover of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe.” Which is more compelling as a commentary on the world? I’m not sure.

Nothing’s gonna to change my world.

Thanks to West Latta for the link; via TreeHugger’s Jaymi Heimbuch:
iPhone App Creates Music from Stars and Galaxies

My God, it’s full of stars. (You totally saw this caption coming.)
  • so a slightly different tune each day of the year based upon where you are in the world as well right? That's kinda cool. So not only is it like you hear the melody of the stars, but you get a unique song of Los Angeles, CA Nov 10th 2011, which is slightly different than New York, NY Nov 10th 2011, or anywhere else in the world on any other day in time. Me gusta.

  • Why can't she pronounce cantus the right way? Or is this the way you should pronounce it as an american. Sorry for the whining…

  • Peter Kirn

    @Kasper: I'm American and I don't say it that way. 

    I'm sure native Latin speakers are … oh. Dead. Never mind. 😉

  • J

    "Generating the universe" ?

    There's an app for that!

    (last screenshot)

  • I had essentially the same idea back in October, 2009.  This is the website I made at the time:

  • Thanks Jim, your site is vastly more interesting!

  • That insight’s peferct for what I need. Thanks!

  • PyBcUS dowrvnooxdah

  • MnLKuR qkcswctgyipc