UAlberta magnetosphere data used for contest to compose Sounds of Space

Canadian composers invited to enter international competition for creating a piece of music using sounds of space: electromagnetic waves converted to audio frequencies.

Suzette Chan - 09 May 2014

(Edmonton) Audio samples from a University of Alberta physics experiment are the basis of an international music contest that all Canadians are eligible to enter.

Physicist Andy Kale says, "The idea is to combine science and art to create a piece of music using sounds of space: electromagnetic waves converted to audio frequencies."

The electromagnetic wave data is from the CARISMA network, which is an array of magnetometers, devices stationed in the ground that are used to measure disturbances in Earth's magnetic field.

Kale explains how the data is turned into sound. "The audio samples are the measurements taken by the induction coil magnetometers deployed in the CARISMA array. The induction coils are essentially many turns of wire wrapped around a mu-metal core, which concentrates the magnetic field, increasing the sensitivity," he says. "Every time the magnetic field changes, a small voltage is induced and measured. The coils measure the changes in the Earth's magnetic field in the frequency range from 0.001Hz to about 50Hz. By speeding these measurements up, and converting them into an audio file, you can actually hear them."

Audio samples from CARISMA can be heard here: Kale notes that in 2011, the artistic duo Semiconductor (also known as Semiconductor Films) used CARISMA data to create an audiovisual piece ( that went on to win awards at the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

The CARISMA experiment is led by University of Alberta professor Ian Mann, who is also a co-investigator with the organization holding the music competition, MAARBLE (Monitoring, Analyzing and Assessing Radiation Belt Loss and Energization). MAARBLE monitors data taken by instruments like CARISMA to learn more about the Van Allen radiation belts that surround the Earth.

The MAARBLE contest is open to any amateur or professional musician from countries affiliated with the collaboration, namely EU member states, the United States and Canada. The first prize is €1500 (approximately $2270 CAD), second €750 ($1140 CAD) and third €500 ($760 CAD). The contest deadline is Saturday, May 31, 2014, 2300 CET (3pm Mountain daylight time).

The MAARBLE research project wraps up at the end of this year, but the CARISMA array will be in operation for at least another five years, recording more data and sounds from space.