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project aims and objectives

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration” – Nikola Tesla

Imagine being able to hear the stars singing; imagine the sound made visible and our bodies resonating to the inaudible symphony of our own planet. Our fascination with the stars has inspired our myths, science, art and philosophy. Research and development for the artwork hertz brings that fascination to life.

hertz, named after Heinrich Hertz, describes the pitch of any given audible, inaudible note or frequency and is the title of this R&D project which connects two happenings: stars singing and invisibly vibrating to the accompaniment of earth’s hidden resonances.

Artist Juliet Robson, working with meteorologist Dr Graeme Marlton, mathematician Dr Andrew Gibbs and astrophysicist Professor Bill Chaplin, will develop prototypes of ‘instruments’ that translate these secret sounds into visible and tangible experiences.

  • For interviews and podcasts with all four hertz collaborators, please scroll down

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Through interactive presentations and the ‘playing’ of those instruments, people will experience a soundtrack of the songs of the stars and the beautiful resonating visual patterns of their frequencies (hertz). They will feel the vibrations of the imperceptible movement of glaciers through their bodies, via chairs and objects and feel the hairs lift on their arm in real time with the inaudible frequencies of a swelling ocean wave off a distant coast.

hertz is supported by an Unlimited award. In addition, Dr Graeme Marlton and the Meteorology Department at the University of Reading, Professor Bill Chaplin and the Astrophysics Department at the University of Birmingham and Dr Andrew Gibbs have committed in kind support and match funding to hertz. Dr Marlton gave a presentation on developments in April 2017 to the EGU (European Geosciences Union) General Assembly 2017 in Vienna (scroll down to bottom of this page to see the poster from the event including links to infra frequencies of Mount Etna and an F16 aircraft).

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Introducing hertz Collaborators and the ‘Science Bit’

Astrophysicist Professor Bill Chaplin and technicians at the University of Birmingham have been using data from the Kepler Project, which has recorded the ‘singing’ of more than 2,000 stars in our galaxy. Asteroseismology is a rapidly growing field of astronomy and Professor Bill Chaplin leads a team from within the international Kepler Asteroseismic Science Consortium (KASC) responsible for the study of stars similar to our own Sun.

Professor Chaplin himself: “Stars resonate like musical instruments. KASC may be able to use this ‘music of the spheres’ to help us understand the origins of solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Their origins lie in processes occurring inside our Sun, so we are better able then to predict the occurrence of events like severe solar storms and their impact on us.”

Through a number of research visits, hertz Lead Artist Juliet Robson will explore Birmingham university’s star sounds archive and select raw frequency data of star sounds with Professor Chaplin. These frequencies below our range of hearing will then be transposed up and made audible. Next, through using algorithms written by Dr Andrew Gibbs, a prototype ‘instrument’ will be built to create beautiful, oscillating geometric patterns of star songs made of vibrating salt granules generated on Chladni plates.

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Dr Gibbs’s PhD in applied mathematics specialised in modelling the interaction of acoustic waves with two-dimensional obstacles. A key part of acoustic wave modelling is predicting the frequencies at which resonance and other phenomena occur, such as the formation of Chladni patterns. Dr Gibbs will design algorithms and simple experiments which can be used to predict the shape of the Chladni-style plate on which patterns will form when specifically excited by sounds of stars.

Also at the University of Reading, through the Atmospheric InfraStructure Research in Europe (ARISE) project, meteorologist Dr Graeme Marlton has access to infrasound data from international stations of many natural and man-made phenomena below the human range of hearing, such as imperceptibly moving glaciers, earthquake tremors, volcanoes, oceanic waves and even comets hitting the earth. The stations are constantly recording and storing this data, of which only a tiny amount from specific events is used in research and ever sees the light of day.

hertz will use these ‘forgotten’ infrasound signals to provide modulated vibrations that will drive a silent subwoofer to shake a chair, wheelchair or object, so that we can experience their hidden resonances.

In addition, an infra wave sensor with another subwoofer audio speaker will provide low frequency tones of events, but from sensors picking up signals in real-time. Participants will experience this, through for example the hairs on their arm being lifted in conjunction with invisible frequencies’ natural happenings.