Playing Piano with the Harmonies of Eclipsing Stars

Selection from the sheet music for "Awkward Keystrokes of Y Cam" by  Ulaş (via
Selection from the sheet music for “Awkward Keystrokes of Y Cam” by Burak Ulaş (via

Astronomers have long considered the harmony of the universe as a sort of music, from Pythagoras and the Musica Universalis, to Kepler and the “music of the spheres.” In the contemporary science of asteroseismology, which like Earthbound seismology studies pulsations of stars to find out more about their interiors, the oscillations of stellar bodies are revealed to have frequencies not dissimilar from ringing bells.

An illustration of the "Harmony of the World," reflecting the idea of Musica Universalis (1806) (from Ebenezer Sibly's Astrology, via Wikimedia)
An illustration of the “Harmony of the World,” reflecting the idea of Musica Universalis (1806) (from Ebenezer Sibly’s Astrology, via Wikimedia) (click to enlarge)

Burak Ulaş, an astronomer at Turkey’s Izmir Turk College Planetarium, composed a piano duet with the pulsations of a star, which he recently posted on SoundCloud. The MIT Technology Review, as part of their coverage on Cornell University’s arXiv technology repository, shared it last week, along with Ulaş’s accompanying paper “The Multiperiodic Pulsating Star Y Cam A as a Musical Instrument.” In the publication, he writes that the “whole procedure can be summarized as converting the oscillation phenomenon seen on the primary component of Y Cam to a musical instrument which plays its unique chord on various notes.”

The eclipsing stars of binary system Y Cam A are his collaborators, whose “oscillation frequency arrangement of the primary component shows the best agreement with the Diminished Whole Tone Scale.” In the sheet music for the short song — “Awkward Keystrokes of Y Cam” — notation represents four frequencies that Ulaş turned into musical chords with the sound software Audacity, giving them a sort of layered theremin eeriness. The piano was recorded separately, then combined as two instruments playing across time and space. In his paper, Ulaş acknowledges Pythagoras, Kepler, and modern creators like astrophysicist Zoltán Kolláth and composer Jenő Keuler, whose Stellar Music Project started in 2003 involves music composed with the acoustic waves of stars.

“Awkward Keystrokes of Y Cam” is embedded below, and on SoundCloud Ulaş shared the individual generated chords, available for additional cosmic music experimentation. And this may be just the start of his celestial tunes, as Ulaş notes that the study “shows that the further orchestral compositions can be made from the frequency analysis results of several pulsating stars,” meaning whole orchestras could resonate from astral motion.

h/t MIT Technology Review

Read “The Multiperiodic Pulsating Star Y Cam A as a Musical Instrument” from Burak Ulaş on arXiv.

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