Writing the music for ‘A Dark Tour of the Universe’

I have recently been involved in composing music and creating technology-based representations of astronomical data and images for an exciting new project, bridging music and science and working with ESO fellow Chris Harrison to contribute a show that was premiered at the British Science Festival on Friday 13th September 2019. Find out more below, and get in touch to find out more about how I can help with writing music for your project.

Chris led a project to design and produce an astronomical show aimed at people who are blind or visually impaired. A Dark Tour of the Universe offers a tactile experience of the Universe by using 3D models of astronomical images and sonification of real astronomical datasets. The show premieres at the British Science Festival on 13 September 2019.


Image Credit: ESO/M. Zamani , S. Brunier, TRAPPIST/ E. Jehin, EHT Collaboration, Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Millennium Simulation Project, NASA/ Goddard/ SDO, WMAP Science Team

The show starts with stars appearing as they are from the platform of ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, on the night of 13 September 2019. Using real data of position, magnitudes and colours of stars, a beautiful surround-sound effect is created, allowing the audience to listen to the stars appear.

Other highlights of the show include listening to variable stars or to galaxies merging and feeling 3D models of some of ESO’s best astronomical images, including the first picture of a black hole and the 360-degree panoramic image of the Milky Way, taken by our Photo Ambassador Serge Brunier. One of the datasets that has been sonified is related to the discovery of exoplanet NGTS-1b, using the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) instrument at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. NGTS-1b was the third gas giant to had been observed transiting an M-dwarf star.

People who have sight are also encouraged to attend the show. They will gain a lot from the experience, as they will be blindfolded.

The project, in collaboration with BMW, has been shortlisted for the prestigious industrial TCT awards, which are celebrating the innovators, technologies and collaborators behind the leading examples of Additive Manufacturing, 3D Printing, Design and Engineering across the globe. The awards ceremony will take place on 25 September 2019.

The project was led by ESO Fellow Chris Harrison, who worked with various astronomers at ESO, including other fellows and students. Chris built upon his experience producing planetarium shows for the ESO Supernova as part of his fellow duties, while conducting research at ESO Headquarters in Garching near Munich.

The show was produced together with Nicolas Bonne, a visually impaired astronomer from the University of Portsmouth, who provided valuable insight into how visually impaired astronomers conduct their research. He has also turned images into 3D models and is the presenter of the show.

German company BMW printed 300 3D models for the show, while the international company Arup used their acoustic-consulting team and Sydney-based SoundLab to produce sonified astrophysics concepts and data and created a soundtrack using full surround sound (6.1). Arup’s UK Midlands office provided the technical support required for the premiere showing at the British Science Festival.

James Reevell, a UK musician and teacher, created all of the music and “composer’s impressions” for the show. He used an ESO-produced simulation movie of a black hole as inspiration for one of his compositions.