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  • ROBERT ALEXANDER: If you'd asked me five years ago,

  • Robert, where will you be five years from now?

  • I don't think I would've been able to come up with an answer

  • as cool as what I actually feel like I'm doing, you know?

  • [ETHEREAL MUSIC]

  • ROBERT ALEXANDER: My name is Robert Alexander.

  • And I'm a data sonification specialist with the Solar and

  • Heliospheric Research Group.

  • To sonify something just means that you're taking any type of

  • data and just turning it into sound.

  • So it could be a measurement of the stock market.

  • It could be a measurement of people entering

  • and exiting a room.

  • It could be your heartbeat.

  • So if you think about a heart rate monitor--

  • beep, beep--

  • essentially, this is a sonification

  • of someone's pulse.

  • I think of myself as an explorer.

  • I live in the space between art, and science, and

  • technology.

  • And the Toroidal Universe project is a great example.

  • I collaborated with this amazing visual artist by the

  • name of Danielle Battaglia.

  • And we created this multi-sensory experience in

  • which people, they can just get lost in these theoretical

  • higher dimensional spaces.

  • And these were filled with these sounds that I generated

  • from raw satellite data that were these kind of guide posts

  • as you move around.

  • It really is important for me to remain grounded in what it

  • means to just be connected with the world of sound in a

  • very tangible, very visceral way.

  • So then when I go off and I'm interacting with the sun, it

  • gives me a sense of grounding in a sense.

  • And it kind of helps just round out my life and to

  • maintain a healthy sort of balance, I

  • guess you could say.

  • So as I was finishing up my master's degree, I was

  • approached by Thomas Zurbuchen who leads the Solar and

  • Heliospheric Research Group.

  • And he was interested in taking some other data and

  • turning it into sound.

  • So I met with their team.

  • And they put up a bunch of plots.

  • And they were telling me about coronal holes, and they were

  • throwing out this scientific jargon.

  • And I really didn't understand much of it.

  • But then they put up these images and these movies.

  • And then I really started to understand why

  • they were so excited.

  • It's because what's happening out there is absolutely

  • amazing, and it was all silent.

  • So essentially they're interested in kind of creating

  • a soundtrack for these things that are taking

  • place out in space.

  • SUSAN LEPRI: He brought to us this idea of sonifying data,

  • which is really quite innovative and maybe even

  • transformative.

  • ROBERT ALEXANDER: I had no idea what data

  • audification was.

  • But that's what I was doing at the time is I was taking this

  • solar data, and I was writing it directly into audio files.

  • So I hit play.

  • And I hear this underlying hum.

  • And there seemed to be a structure.

  • The hum would rise and fall.

  • So then after I crunched all the numbers, I realized that

  • what I was listening to was something that was

  • periodically happening every roughly 27 days.

  • And that's exactly the rotational period of the sun.

  • And then, from there it was this journey of realizing that

  • I'm listening to the solar cycle, so the rise and the

  • fall in solar activity.

  • And then, at that point, I realized this can really

  • actually teach us something new.

  • At first, it came off as extremely cerebral.

  • And it was just a tone that kind of went up and down.

  • And there really wasn't very much emotion behind it.

  • And we really didn't know how we wanted to start to

  • investigate these sounds.

  • So then as it evolved, they said, well, how about we try

  • an emotional journey?

  • So a week later, I came back, and I had created this

  • iteration whereby you take a journey from the Earth out to

  • the sun and back, with sonification audio underlying

  • this whole entire experience.

  • Every single piece of that music is driven in some way,

  • shape, or form by that data.

  • And all of the choices in terms of the rise and the

  • fall, all of them relate back to the underlying data.

  • And all of them are true to the data in some

  • way, shape, or form.

  • Starting with one of the more predominant things that you're

  • actually hearing is that drumbeat.

  • There's a question of are there African tribal drummers

  • on the surface of the sun?

  • And the answer is no.

  • But if you think about a scientific graph, there are

  • hash marks.

  • And you need these hash marks to make sense.

  • What the drum beat is is it's a sort of grandiose metronome,

  • in a sense.

  • And it just lets you know where you are

  • within this data set.

  • So for that piece with the drumming that's all over the

  • year 2003, and the drumming actually lets you, like every

  • eight bars, that you've gone through one full

  • rotation of the sun.

  • And in a sense, if you hear something that happens at the

  • beginning of the bar and then you hear something happen

  • again, similarly, at the beginning eight bars later,

  • then you know that this might be a feature that's persisted

  • across an entire solar rotation now, and it's coming

  • back in the musical form.

  • And the sun then provides the structure and can provide

  • these sort of recurring themes.

  • And the drums just give it that structure

  • within which to evolve.

  • I recorded the voice of my sister, Amanda Alexander.

  • And she has a great alto voice.

  • And originally I was thinking about these charge states of

  • carbon, and the fact that as one of them goes up, another

  • one comes down.

  • And so when you have a lower voice versus a higher voice,

  • there's actually more energy pushing out

  • those higher notes.

  • So when I'm representing a higher energetic state, I'm

  • using a more energized voice.

  • And in this way, it's kind of appealing directly to the

  • intuition of the listener in that when you hear these

  • voices get more energized, you're at a higher energy

  • level coming from the sun, essentially.

  • I create a structure.

  • I create a framework.

  • And without the data driving that framework,

  • nothing takes place.

  • So the structure just kind of exists on its own.

  • And then it's the data that creates all the motion, that

  • creates all the interaction, and all the

  • progression of the music.

  • SUSAN LEPRI: Initially, it started out sort of more

  • looking at the aesthetics of how can you sonify solar wind?

  • And it was a musical sort of approach.

  • But then it evolved more into a scientific

  • data analysis method.

  • When he was working with the scientists here, Enrico Landi,

  • who is, I believe, the first author on the paper, he found

  • that he could actually hear some of the trends more

  • clearly in some of the elements.

  • ROBERT ALEXANDER: I was digging through like 20, 30

  • different data parameters and listening to them all.

  • And I realized that if I listened to carbon that I

  • could hear a very strong, harmonic presence.

  • And I started to think, if I'm hearing carbon here, but no

  • one in the group has ever really been

  • talking about carbon.

  • It's not really something that they

  • stress as being important.

  • And yet, here, fundamentally, this is one of the strongest

  • periodic signals that I had found up to that point.

  • I'm thinking maybe this is something worth looking into a

  • little bit more.

  • We were able to figure out that, if we use carbon, that

  • we can trace the origins of the solar wind

  • with a higher accuracy.

  • So we can figure out where it's originating on the sun.

  • SUSAN LEPRI: This was fairly significant research findings

  • that came out of this audification thing.

  • So it really, I think, set the stage for Robert to do a lot

  • more exciting things with the sonification of data.

  • ROBERT ALEXANDER: We wrote everything up.

  • And we said that the ear can be an extremely powerful tool

  • in the analysis of this type of data, of time series data.

  • And some people at NASA, I guess, got excited about that.

  • And they said, all right, let's give it a shot.

  • And so now I'm in the second year of my NASA JPFP

  • fellowship.

  • And I spent the last summer working at NASA Goddard.

  • And I was really amazed at how eager they all were to pick up

  • the ball with sonification.

  • And so it was really invigorating to be in that

  • kind of space with those kinds of minds and to be tackling

  • these kinds of ideas.

  • We forget that the most powerful tool that we have for

  • exploring the universe is right between our two ears.

  • And those same two ears provide a wealth of

  • information beyond what our eyes can actually see.

  • When we open up our ears and open up our minds, we open

  • ourselves up to an entirely new way of

  • understanding the universe.

ROBERT ALEXANDER: If you'd asked me five years ago,

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B1 data alexander robert solar sun carbon

Using the Sun to Make Music

  • 125 9
    阿多賓 posted on 2013/12/08
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