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Toscanini Through the Light Years

A friend of mine who knows more about classical music than anyone I’ve ever met, and who has turned his passion for it into a second career, asked me a question a few years ago that stays with me. A great admirer of Toscanini, he wondered whether some of the the conductor’s prodigious output was in some sense still ‘out there.’ For Toscanini went to work in New York after he left Italy, conducting the first broadcast concert of the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1937. His NBC broadcasts were, of course, recorded, but my friend’s thoughts had turned interstellar and he wondered where those radio signals were now.

Arturo Toscanini at work

We discussed radio signals propagating outwards at the speed of light, so that a 1937 broadcast would now be 71 light years out, and in answer to his query, I said yes, if you could somehow position yourself through superluminal means 71 light years from here, you would be on the wavefront as the initial Toscanini broadcast swept over you. But, I assured him, you wouldn’t be able to hear it. For one thing, most of the radio signal, given its frequency range, would have bounced off the ionosphere and returned to Earth. What signal might have managed to leak out would have become so attenuated as to essentially fade into background noise.

Image: The great Toscanini at work. Want to hear his first 1937 NBC Symphony Orchestra concert? You’ll need to be 71 light years from Earth, and armed with some serious receiving equipment.

Or would it? The question keeps coming up because we are actively scouring the heavens looking for radio or optical signals from other civilizations. Would we actually be able to hear not just a directed beacon, but extraneous transmissions of the sort that the Toscanini broadcasts represent? Broadcasts aimed only at a local audience on a particular planet but nonetheless spreading outwards into the nearby galactic neighborhood? Opinion on this seems mixed, but an online essay by Seth Shostak makes the case that television signals may be detectible, depending on the kind of equipment being used to handle the reception.

Shostak figures that an alien civilization with an antenna farm 15 miles on a side, one that used a collection of simple rooftop antennae spaced every ten feet that hooked up to receivers no more noise-free than those we currently build for our radio telescopes, could pick up TV carrier signals from fifty light years away. A carrier is easier than any other part of the TV broadcast to pick up because the signal is more concentrated within it, and picking it up would offer priceless information.

“The carrier would tell them we’re here – that the red “on the air” sign is lit, and intelligent critters exist on planet Earth. If they found the carrier too boring, and wanted to actually watch Lucy drive Desi nuts, they’d need an antenna farm 150 times bigger in each direction. That’s a large herd of antennas, approximately the size of the United States, and probably not something you’d appreciate outside your picture window. But it’s hardly an unimaginable engineering feat, especially if the aliens are somewhat ahead of us in technical development.

Another example from the article: Arecibo’s one megawatt radar transmitter (that great, endangered instrument we need so badly in the hunt for Earth-crossing asteroids), would be receivable at 320 light years by a receiver with Arecibo-like characteristics. If this is the case, then my friend’s question is answered in a gratifying way for a man who reveres Toscanini’s memory. Yes, in some sense, the great maestro’s music still lives as the wavefront pushes inescapably outwards.

The advantage to us? Assuming a civilization roughly at the stage of development of our planet from, say, 1900 to the present, we might be able to pick up its extraneous signals with sufficiently sensitive equipment (think ‘dark side of the Moon’ in terms of receiver location, and assume advances we might expect shortly). Listening for interstellar beacons has always seemed unproductive to me because of the faint likelihood we might be chosen for such a signal, but simple by-products of normal broadcasting activities would indeed be more likely, assuming such were available and — the big ‘if’ — assuming the existence of a roughly parallel civilization within a star system in the surrounding hundred or so parsecs.

Frankly, I think the odds on that are longer than of my friend’s finding a way to travel 71 light years to listen to his Toscanini broadcasts. But the question of our ‘visibility’ to neighboring star systems is intriguing enough that I’m surprised I’m not seeing more work on it. Shostak mentions a recent TV broadcast in which a “…pundit apparently proclaimed that earthly TV broadcasts would be hopelessly scrambled after penetrating only a few light-years into space.” Does anyone have pointers to recent work on this question that I haven’t been able to track down? And as far as AM radio from the 1930s goes, am I right that a tiny bit of such broadcasts might make it through the ionosphere, or do we have to wait for the advent of FM and television signals to make that jump?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ron S February 29, 2008, 16:45

    1) Ok, I haven’t read his latest, but Shostak seems to be switching sides on this issue. Recall the discussion (last year?) where he critiqued Loeb’s proposal to detect unintentional ETI transmissions, similar to what Shostak is now proposing. Further, from your description it seems his new scheme may be less sensitive than Loeb’s method.

    2) ‘Dark side of the moon’ may be a good choice. Specifically the days around ‘new earth’ phase when both the Sun and Earth are well below the horizon.

    3) RF at ~1 MHz would penetrate the ionosphere at night, but not during the day. I haven’t checked but I suspect that from a distance the atmospheric noise from one Earth hemisphere at these frequencies would bury any one radio broadcast, even with a narrow bandpass filter. Then there’s the noise radiated by the Sun and Jupiter, which, to ETI, would inevitably be received simultaneously.

  • tacitus February 29, 2008, 16:48

    Assuming that our civilization (and Earth) survives our growing pains, there will eventually come a point where we will have little else to do (or little choice) than to look outwards. When we do, our efforts will make the capabilities of Arecibo, the VLA, and even the VLBA look puny by comparison.

    If even the shortest interstellar trip remains a multi-decade affair, then the only practical option for exploring our local galactic neighborhood will be through ever larger, ever more sensitive telescopes covering the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

    Imagine an entire fleet of giant radio telescopes spread throughout the solar system providing a baseline measured in AUs, backup by signal processing power exponentially more capable than is available to us today.

    It may take another 200 years before such a project becomes feasible and is worth attempting, but given the enormous growth in size and capability we are already seeing barely a couple of decades into the age of giant telescopes, I have little doubt its time will come.

    Given that we will have advanced from being a simple nomadic species with no technology save flints and spears to one that can detect the faintest of whispers from parsecs away within a mere 10,000 years, who’s to say that the process hasn’t repeated itself many thousands of times in the past on other worlds in our galaxy? There is still the conundrum of “if they are out there, then why aren’t they here already?” (maybe they are?) but perhaps interstellar travel is proving too costly, too risky, too time consuming for species to invest in. And the next best thing to visiting a planet is to look and listen in.

    So, if there are other civilizations out there that are even just a little ahead of where we are technologywise, I would think it’s a given they have instruments sensitive enough to catch snatches of Toscanini should they be looking out way. The question is, what will they do when they find where it’s coming from?

  • Kevin A. February 29, 2008, 17:03

    Are you familiar with this article by Alan Bellows?

  • James M. Essig February 29, 2008, 17:47

    Hi Paul;

    What a neat conoept, the reception of the broadcast of the concert by this great artist by distant star systems. Assuming that the modulation of the wavefroms carrying the signals holds up to the extent that the fidelity of the signal is maintained, this concert could travel throughout the observable universe although the frequency would be red-shifted by the time it reached near the observable universe limits by space time expansion. Advanced ETI looking for such signals with all of their technical wizardry might just be able to have sensitive enough receivers to receive the broadcast. Since we are looking for ETI signals, I could imagine that there might be vast numbers of ETI civilizations out their doing the same.

    It occured to me that perhaps transmitting digital pulses of directed beams of neutrinos might be an interesting way to send out signals from Earth that would propagate essentially for ever although they would become increasingly hard to detect due to beam divergence unless some way was developed to be able to focus the neutrinos into a very tight beam such as perhaps some way of minipulating the beam through the weak nuclear force or electromagnetically somehow through the electroweak unification.

    Also, miniscule differences in the velocity of individual neutrinoes might result in the reduction of fidelity of the signal as it propagates through the cosmos. Perhaps this effect could be reduced by increasing the time period between individual pulses, shortening the pulse length, and some how reducing the distribution width of the velocity values of the neutrinos within the beam.

    I remember a proposal for the development of a nuetrino beam communication system wherein accellerators would be used to beam neutrinos through the Earth to nuclear submarines to communicate patrol iteneraries or launch signals. Apparently, the plan was viewed as impractical and never got off the ground after the U.S. Navy’s Ultra Low Frequency communications network was up and running sucessfully.

    Perhaps super intense laser beams would be another option to broadcast digitally, many of our fine concerts “accross the universe” including the Beatles song by that name.



  • Administrator February 29, 2008, 17:52

    Kevin, thanks for the link to the Bellows article — I notice this quote in particular: “To demonstrate the degrading effect of distance on an everyday omnidirectional signal, one might imagine a spacecraft equipped with an Arecibo-style radio receiver directed towards the Earth. If this hypothetical spacecraft were to set out for the interstellar medium, its massive 305-meter wide dish would lose its tenuous grip on AM radio before reaching Mars. Somewhere en route to Jupiter, the UHF television receivers would spew nothing but static. Before passing Saturn, the last of the FM radio stations would fade away, leaving all of Earth’s electromagnetic chatter behind well before leaving our own solar system. If a range-finding radar beam from Earth happened to intersect the ship’s path, it would be observable from a much greater distance; though its short duration and smooth, Gaussian meaninglessness would make it an inconclusive detection– much like the Wow! signal and Radio Source SHGb02+14a. A highly focused beam such as that used to communicate with space probes would also remain detectable for some distance beyond the edge of the solar system.”

    The source of my confusion is that there seem to be so many contradictory ideas on propagation of signals. This is a good link; thanks again.

  • Administrator February 29, 2008, 17:54

    Jim, I’ll pass on laser concerts until we’ve figured out a sensible policy on intentional beacon-like signals. But I’m getting fascinated by the range of opinion on whether inadvertent leakage like radio and TV is receivable and at what distance. Opinions are all over the map, as far as I can see.

  • Administrator February 29, 2008, 17:57

    I had thought Seth Shostak had taken a different position, too, Ron; will have to look it up. Your comment on RF propagation is on the money, as I now recall my DXing days when signals would boom in at night that were impossible by day, for the reasons you describe. All that other noise you mention probably makes Toscanini at 70 light years impossible (sigh), though Tacitus’ notion of catching a ‘snatch of Toscanini’ is haunting.

  • James M. Essig February 29, 2008, 22:30

    Hi Paul;

    With all of the TV, Radio, and Microwave cellular phone transmissions that have been leaking into space in just the past 10 years, if, in the future, any ETI who are looking for such transmissions and able to detect them do so, they would have a field day with what they would find. Just think of all of the radio transmitted and televised concerts, news broadcasts, movies, classifed DOD/Industrial complex communications transmitting info in coded form about highly classified projects, the personal phones calls made using cell phones, educational programs about nature, philosophy, religion, physics, technology, anthropology, and the list goes on and on.

    The ETI could learn a great deal about us without even visiting. I can imagine what we would find in our continued combing of the Milky Way for signals such as with SETI.



  • ljk February 29, 2008, 23:53

    This article lists the various distances of various frequencies
    and methods that can be detected in the galaxy, up to and
    including if we detonated a lot of nuclear weapons in space.


  • Adam March 1, 2008, 6:04

    Hi All

    Shostak’s essay makes me wonder if a laudable project in the centuries ahead is not to plant an antenna farm across the surface of a trans-Neptunian planet that’s outside the heliopause. There should be several such planets out there in the Moon-Light Zone (beyond 676 AU where the Sun is as bright as a Full Moon.) Cover it in antenna and the sensing range should be immense. Plus the noise from Earth should be somewhat quieter. Another planet could base the Gravity Lensing Fleet – perhaps the new Planet X predicted by those Japanese dynamicists?

  • andy March 1, 2008, 9:55

    How well do we know what the sky looks like at the wavelengths of our TV transmissions? The fact that we are transmitting at these wavelengths means that it is going to be very difficult to observe whatever nature is doing, so the question of how much our transmissions would stand out against the background may perhaps still be open.

  • Ron S March 1, 2008, 12:50

    TV transmissions are easier to detect than AM radio for a variety of reasons. However we need to distinguish between the video carrier and the modulation. Video carriers (NTSC analog) are typically powerful (say, 100 kW), penetrate the ionosphere, and beamed roughly parallel to the surface, and because it’s AM the carrier is fixed-frequency and continuous. The programming in the modulation is weaker and broadband. With a narrow filter centered on the carrier you can detect TV signal presence when a full-bandwidth TV receiver sees nothing. Even the audio signal is less steady (FM) and much lower power than the video signal.

    With a tight filter and long integration times the TV video carrier could be detected a long ways away. Difficulties include frequency drift and periodic signal presence due to Earth’s rotation, and multi-path effects. Understanding that it is a TV signal is another matter since the modulation is likely to be effectively invisible from an interstellar distance.

    Sophisticated signal processing requires knowing, to a degree, what the signal looks like. A continuous wave signal is the simplest and easiest to detect. Once ETI locks in on that they can broaden the bandwidth and increase integration time to look for modulation. It’s challenging. That’s one thing SETI@home is dealing with – taking their raw data and throwing a lot of processing at it to see if one of their filters (candidate signal profiles) can find something.

  • Ron S March 2, 2008, 23:34

    I got a bit curious to see if I could better answer andy’s question. It was a bit of a challenge to get the proper data, and it’s been years since I’ve done any path loss calculations. Hopefully I haven’t make too many errors in methodology (I left the arithmetic to Excel). Please let me know if I have.

    I used 175 MHz, TV channel 7 in North America, since galactic noise gets quite bad for channel 6 and below (<88 MHz). For a 100 kW video carrier with 8 db of gain, a 1,000 meter diameter dish would be, at the distance of Alpha Centauri (272,000 AU), a signal of -203 dbm. The galactic noise is about 900 K at 175 MHz, so the noise spectral density is about -164 dbm/Hz. This swamps noise from the sun, which was a relief since the solar noise calculation is a pig. It would take an impossibly tight beam to make the solar sun an issue (i.e. much much bigger receiving dish).

    The receiver integration times to pull a signal 40 db below the noise is quite large. This would be longer than signal acquisition time due to Earth’s rotation. Further, the frequency drift (doppler) due to Earth’s rotation and orbit means that the signal processor much lock onto a moving target, and the direction and speed of the drift is, at first, unknown. If you’ve ever read what it takes for the DSN to lock onto a Voyager you’ll understand what’s involved. The effective filter bandwidth would have to be under 1 Hz, increasing the difficulty while improving the S/N.

    I made some reasonable, if somewhat optimistic assumptions about dish accuracy, ISM attenuation, etc. One problem is that at 175 MHz, even this large dish has a gain of only 62 db.

    I would conclude from this that ETI isn’t watching I Love Lucy. More likely they’d be listening up in the GHz range (where we mainly listen) where the galactic noise drops down to 10 K or so. Better for ETI to search for our radar and similar signals.

  • Administrator March 3, 2008, 9:37

    Ron’s conclusion seems sound to me: “I would conclude from this that ETI isn’t watching I Love Lucy. More likely they’d be listening up in the GHz range (where we mainly listen) where the galactic noise drops down to 10 K or so. Better for ETI to search for our radar and similar signals.” Thanks, Ron!

    The inference being that at least in terms of extraneous TV signals, our presence would be unlikely to be detected by any nearby civilizations unless we make a targeted effort to announce ourselves using more powerful equipment. The question of whether our planetary radars wouldn’t trigger such detections during their routine operations is another matter. As for my Toscanini reception, the odds aren’t terribly high. At least I do have a few of the recordings…

  • andy March 3, 2008, 10:33

    Thanks for the analysis Ron… looks like detectability is a much more complicated problem than it would at first seem.

  • Ron S March 3, 2008, 11:17

    Errata. Hopefully the several typos I made didn’t distract too much. The worst one was “solar sun”, which should be “sun (or solar) noise”. A bigger error was in presenting the galactic noise as 164 dbm/Hz, which is nonsense. It should be 164 dbm @ 1 Hz bandwidth. I am more comfortable with dbm than with Watts/Hz because of my background, but then I messed up the presentation.

    Another datum – I calculated the doppler drift that the receiver would see. At 175 MHz, in the hour after AOS (TV transmitter rotates into view) and the hour before LOS, the drift is, worst case, ~-10 Hz/hour. Those are the periods when the transmitter’s signal is strongest. Lock onto that with a 0.01 Hz filter when you don’t know the scale of the drift! At least DSN knows the Earth’s spin, and so can compensate nicely when they lock onto distant spacecraft.

  • ljk March 3, 2008, 16:40

    Please Call Earth. We Still Haven’t Found You.


    Published: March 2, 2008

    NEARLY half a century ago, Frank Drake, a young radio
    astronomer with extraterrestrials on his mind, stepped up
    to a blackboard in Green Bank, W.Va., and scribbled a
    string of symbols intended to bring some clarity to the
    question of just how alone humanity is in the cosmos.

    The dozen wise men (there were no women) in the room
    were an elite group. Among them were Carl Sagan of
    Cornell University, as yet relatively unknown; the biochemist
    Melvin Calvin, who would learn during the meeting that he
    had won the Nobel Prize in chemistry; Barney Oliver, the
    research chief of Hewlett-Packard; and John Lilly, the
    dolphin expert, in whose honor the group dubbed themselves
    the Order of the Dolphin.

    They sifted the variables in the light of what was then known
    or guessed, did the math, and concluded that there could be
    from less than a thousand to a billion other civilizations in
    the galaxy.

    The Drake Equation, as it is known, has served as the bones
    of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and for
    the hopeful field of astrobiology ever since.

    Since that meeting, in 1961, spacecraft have surveyed all
    the major bodies of the solar system, except for Pluto, and
    radio astronomers have listened for intelligent signals from
    more than 1,000 stars, so far in vain. Last month, a scaled-
    down version of our own solar system, with a pair of planets
    analogous to Jupiter and Saturn, was found orbiting a star
    5,000 light years away in the constellation Scorpius, bringing
    the total number of known exoplanets, as they are called,
    to more than 250.

    You might think we have made some headway in solving the
    equation, or rewriting it, or generally getting a handle on our
    cosmic loneliness. But you would be wrong. Astronomers today
    are as fuzzily optimistic (or pessimistic) as the Green Bank

    “I get that question all the time,” said Dr. Drake, 76, by phone
    from his office at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.,
    where he is chairman emeritus and director of the Carl Sagan
    Center for the Study of Life in the Universe. “There hasn’t been
    any great change. The equation still stands.”

    The discoveries of the last half-century, he explained, have
    confirmed what were just educated guesses on the part of
    the Dolphins.

    Full article here:


  • ljk March 6, 2008, 15:10

    SETI and muon collider

    Authors: Z.K. Silagadze

    (Submitted on 4 Mar 2008)

    Abstract: Intense neutrino beams that accompany muon colliders can be used for interstellar communications. The presence of multi-TeV extraterrestrial muon collider at several light-years distance can be detected after one year run of IceCube type neutrino telescopes, if the neutrino beam is directed towards the Earth. This opens a new avenue in SETI: search for extraterrestrial muon colliders.

    Comments: 3 pages, ReVTeX4

    Subjects: Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph); Astrophysics (astro-ph)

    Cite as: arXiv:0803.0409v1 [physics.pop-ph]

    Submission history

    From: Zurab Silagadze [view email]

    [v1] Tue, 4 Mar 2008 10:53:14 GMT (6kb)


  • James M. Essig March 7, 2008, 5:01

    Hi Folks;

    Thanks to all of you for providing this thoughful discussion. There is one way in which we know we can travel interstellar distances to our nearby stars in just a few years and that involves travel in the sense of sending out info about ourselves at light speed. We can in essence send technologically advanced artificial manifestations of our presence on Earth in the form of information right here and now in the early 21st Century which will travel forever although obviously the signals will be attenuated for spherical long wave electromagnetic radiation wave fronts and the fidelity of short wave photon signal packets will degrade over great distances.

    The idea of neutrino beam communication is nice. One might also consider other forms of hot dark matter such as neutralinos and the various supersymmetric particle types that travel at or near C.

    Perhaps humans and/or ETI could send a beam in multiple types of hot dark matter such as neutralinos, neutrinos, and various super-symmetric mattergy forms that theoretically would travel at or near C. Simultaneous detection of more then one from of hot dark mattergy would seem higly improbable and as a result would stand out as being artificially generated. The pulses could be coincident is space time or they could be offset iwith respect to particle species norder to stand out.

    In addition, photons could be included in the beam in order to cover a wider spectrum of information carrying mattergy to stand out even more. What’s more, perhaps photons of different frequencies could be beamed wherein the frequencies could be seperated by equal frequency seperations or seperated into monochromatic bands in tems of frequency spacing in such a way that the frequency band gaps would convey information in coded form perhaps involving basic geometic relations, prime number sequences, ordered mathematical series progressions, and the like.

    The photons used could range from hard gamma rays all the way down in energy to sub-millimeter infrared/microwave. A civilization might through in RF, extremely low frequency, or ultralow frequency electromagnetic radiation to boot.

    Now what if the theory of Doubly Special Relativity has any validity wherein the velocity of photons in a vacuum accordingly depends on frequency. The theory states that the difference say between the arrival time of gamma rays from a supernova and the visible light or other even lower frequency radiation from a supernova such as nuclear bomb like electromagnetic pulse might differ by about a millisecond for cosmicallly remote supernova (at least I think that is the approximate time difference predicted for super nova on the order of a few billion years distant). Accordingly the value of the square root of the inverse product of the magnetic permeability and the electrical permittivity of free space which we know as C in classical electrodynamics would be the long wave frequency lower limit of electromagnetic radiation velocity.

    However, as the photon energy approached the Planck energy of Ep = {[(h bar)(C EXP 5)/G] EXP 1/2} = 1.956 × 10 EXP 9 Joules = 1.22 × 10 EXP 19 GeV where h bar is the reduced Plancks constant and G is the universal newtonian gravitational constant, the velocity of the photon would dramatically increase. In fact, in at least some versions of Doubly Special Relativity, the velocity of the photon has a limiting high energy value of infinity. Thus, Doubly Special Relativity is offered as an additional way to perhaps explain the homogeniety of the universe at time periods traditionally thought to have envolved inflation wherein the extreme photon energy associated with black body temperatures in excess to 10 EXP 30 K within the early instants of the universe would have been comensurate with values of velocity extremely greater than what we know as C today thus allowing thermodynamic information and quantum mechanical fluctuation in the early expending univese to communicate over much larger distances thus potentially negating the need for superluminal inflation to provide the smoothness or homogeniety observed today.

    The point is, what if extremely hard gamma rays could be produced that actually travel many times faster, perhaps even several orders of magnitude faster, than 3 x 10 EXP 8 meters/second. What an excellent communication medium they would make both on the part of ETI as well as on the part of future humanity.

    At any rate, it will be interesting to see what sort of mattergy particles the folks at CERN will cook up when the LHC goes back on line this May.



  • ljk March 8, 2008, 14:15

    Humans Predicted to Make Contact with an Extraterrestrial Civilization Within Two Decades

    Some leading astronomers are quite confident that mankind will make contact with intelligent alien life within two decades. The search for extraterrestrial life will leap forward next year when NASA launches the Kepler space telescope. The instrument will be constantly scanning the same 100,000 stars over its four-year mission with the exciting objective of discovering Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones around suns.

    This will allow SETI to hone in on where the odds of life are possibly greatest. Currently, SETI’s mission to find life on other planets is like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. But now, whenever Kepler identifies planets most likely to sustain life, the team at SETI will be able to focus in on those solar systems using deep-space listening equipment. This will be a huge upgrade from their present work of randomly scanning the outer reaches of space for some kind of sign or signal. Also, upping the ante, is the recent discovery of Earth-like planets outside our solar system, which has led astrophysicists to conclude that Earth-like planets are likely relatively common in our galaxy.

    “Everything has caused us to become more optimistic,” said American astrophysicist Dr Frank Drake in a recent BBC documentary. “We really believe that in the next 20 years or so, we are going to learn a great deal more about life beyond Earth and very likely we will have detected that life and perhaps even intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy.”

    Full article here:


  • ljk July 8, 2009, 11:03


    The birth of the blues: how physics underlies music

    J M Gibson 2009 Rep. Prog. Phys. 72 076001 (17pp) doi: 10.1088/0034-4885/72/7/076001

    J M Gibson

    Argonne National Laboratory, 9700 Cass Avenue, Argonne IL 60439, USA

    E-mail: jmgibson@aps.anl.gov

    Abstract. Art and science have intimate connections, although these are often underappreciated. Western music provides compelling examples. The sensation of harmony and related melodic development are rooted in physical principles that can be understood with simple mathematics.

    The focus of this review is not the better known acoustics of instruments, but the structure of music itself. The physical basis of the evolution of Western music in the last half millennium is discussed, culminating with the development of the ‘blues’.

    The paper refers to a number of works which expand the connections, and introduces material specific to the development of the ‘blues’. Several conclusions are made: (1) that music is axiomatic like mathematics and that to appreciate music fully listeners must learn the axioms; (2) that this learning does not require specific conscious study but relies on a linkage between the creative and quantitative brain and (3) that a key element of the musical ‘blues’ comes from recreating missing notes on the modern equal temperament scale. The latter is an example of ‘art built on artifacts’.

    Finally, brief reference is made to the value of music as a tool for teaching physics, mathematics and engineering to non-scientists.

    Print publication: Issue 7 (July 2009)

    Received 15 May 2008, in final form 12 February 2009

    Published 30 June 2009

    PDF version of the paper is here:


  • ljk August 21, 2012, 10:47


    The Solar System Set to Music: A Near-Perpetual Homage to Bach

    by Maria Popova

    January 17, 2012

    532.25 septendecillion years of fugue, or what Pluto has to do with the longest palindrome in existence.

    I have a soft spot for music made with unusual means or from unusual raw materials, and have long been fascinated by unusual notation. Naturally, I’m head-over-heels with Daniel Starr-Tambor’s Mandala — a remarkably dimensional musical composition created by assigning each planet in the Solar System a particular note along the natural harmonic series, starting with Mercury’s B and going all the way up by two octaves and a ninth to Pluto’s C#.

    The composition is a palindrome, which means it can be played the same way in either direction, and, with more than 62 vigintillion individual notes, it’s the longest palindrome in existence — by far. At the accelerated tempos of the Solar System, it would continue without repetition for over 532.25 septendecillion years — a sort of soundtrack for near-infinity.

    An homage to Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Art of the Fugue, embedded in the piece is the iconic composer’s “musical signature” — the arrangement of the stereo imaging reflects the precise position of the Solar System at the moment of Bach’s birth, viewed from the perspective of the Sun as it faces the constellation Libra, “so that each note chronicles his birthday on every planet.”

    If Bach is calling to us from the outer planets, I hope he would accept this music as a fitting response.” ~ Daniel Starr-Tambor

    It hardly gets more faceted and cross-disciplinarily creative than this — bravo.