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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 arts commissioning programme Unlimited, which celebrates the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council England. 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.

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hertz update: Testing infrasound – storm fronts and urban and rural life that blows our minds

 

It’s been busy on the hertz front. the latest happenings were in the studio last week.

We were testing out our latest crop of infrasound files including the recent storm front when it was about 200 kilometres out to sea; the urban noise from Reading – building work, rush hour and regular trains; and contrasting that with frequencies picked up from my garden in a rural location.

The results were more than we hoped and all very different. It’s difficult to explain the huge, exciting, laughter-inducing, at times meditative and sometimes frankly rather nerve-racking vibrations and sensations. They course through the metal frame into your body from the transducer (‘buttkicker’) attached to the wheelchair, while the subwoofer pulsates the air around you with the usually inaudible frequencies of our planet. It lifts the hairs on your arm and face and draws you into its world. The experience is immersive. I would of course post the sounds, but without a large subwoofer you can’t hear the low range frequencies.

Not sure what the neighbours thought but they’re a tolerant lot. So it’s onwards and upwards on the infrasound front. The next stage will be collecting the infrasound of an Icelandic glacier. In September Dr Graeme Marlton will attempt to record the inaudible frequencies of the Aurora Borealis if it’s gracious enough to appear on a work trip with the University of Reading. We will also be working on being able to experience and identify infrasound in real time.

To read or listen to an interview with Dr Graeme Marlton and hear what journalist Glenn Bryant thought about the experience in his own words please scroll down.

You will also find interviews with Professor Bill Chaplin from the Astrophysics Department of Birmingham university, one with myself and other information about hertz including a description of the R&D project as a whole.

Back soon with more hertz updates.

professor Bill Chaplin (university of Birmingham) interview: hertz unlimited project – the songs of our stars

 

20170614_192957hertz is an innovative research and development project, and the creation of experienced Lead Artist Juliet Robson. It is supported by arts commissioning programme Unlimited, which celebrates the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council England. hertz diversely marries four fields of study: art, astrophysics, mathematics and meteorology. The project aims to allow audiences to discover what noise, trapped inside stars in space, sounds like – and what it looks like in the shape of patterns it creates. Further, hertz aims to translate infrasound, which we cannot hear, into physical sensations people can experience.

Professor Bill Chaplin – of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham – is collaborating on the project. Here, he describes what drew him to hertz and explains how stars create sound in the first place, and what we can learn from it

Professor Chaplin, why did you first become involved in hertz?

It was through being contacted by Lead Artist Juliet Robson. I was very interested and intrigued by what she had to say. Personally, I have a long-standing interest in collaborations between artists and scientists, which is manifested in collaborations I have had with other artists previously.

I am interested in how artists and scientists can interact professionally and how they can influence each other’s practice. I am particularly interested in hertz in how it might change my views on how I work and how I might articulate that in the future. For example, I might be talking to my wife one evening and she will often preface a question with, ‘Forgive my ignorance, but…’ It usually isn’t ignorance. They are usually questions which make you question your own assumptions on an issue.

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What do you hope to achieve through hertz?

Like I have said, I am very keen to see how Juliet and I can influence each other’s practice through collaboration. Also, I am interested to discover new ways to use the astronomical data we have and collect to engage with the public – making it accessible to people who otherwise might not be engaged with science. hertz, I think, is certainly going to provide another way to do that and in a very innovative way. I guess people will come to see and experience hertz for the art, but if members of that audience come away from seeing the work and say, ‘Hey, stars resonate like musical instruments’, that will represent real success.

 

:Sound of Kepler-36 a sun star found in the Cygnus constellation which can currently be seen in the northern hemisphere.

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Cross section of a sun star: sound made by turbulent gas occurs in the orange section.

Professor, describe your background.

I am an astronomer. I study stars and also search for planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy. The technique we use to do that is through natural resonances produced by stars, which make sound within their interiors and which resonate like great, big musical instruments. Because stars are big balls of gas – they are not solid objects – that trapped sound makes stars gently breathe in and out. By measuring that breathing we can learn what stars look like inside and, importantly, it is the only way we can do that. It allows us very accurately to calculate how big stars are and how old they are. That is particularly important when we discover a star surrounded by planets, because we only know the planets as well as we know the star which they orbit.

That is the research I do at the University of Birmingham and have been doing in my career for more than 20 years. The fact that stars resonate was first discovered here in the 1970s at the university when we learnt that our sun breathes in and out – which is why I am based here and doing the work that I do in Birmingham.

However, we had to wait until the 1990s to be able to detect these very gentle oscillations in other sun-like stars, through the advent of new satellites and big telescopes like the NASA Kepler Mission, which we use and is making our ability to study stars in detail a reality.

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What first inspired you to become an astronomer?

It would have been following and being intrigued by the NASA space programme as a kid. If I had followed that interest through logically, I would have become an engineer, but I didn’t – I got sidetracked by the science and completed my PhD in building instrumentation that could enable us to detect clouds around other stars and also measure this oscillation in stars. I then started studying the sun and other stars for the next 10 years until around 2005. Then we realized things were about to happen with how we study stars through new technology. The data we can now glean from other stars helps us understand our own sun. For many years that understanding was only one-way. The sun was like a Rosetta Stone for astronomers, helping them understand other stars.

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Why do stars create sound?

A star like our sun makes sound because its outer layers are turbulent through a process called convection, which can be created simply in an oven or by a pan of hot water on a stove. Convection involves parcels of gas moving around and circulating, and as they do that and buffet one another, turbulence happens which produces changes in pressure and sound waves. Even though a star like the sun does not have a solid edge, it does act as a natural cavity to trap that sound and creates resonances like in the body of a musical instrument. Because the sun is a big ball of gas, the compressions and relaxations of the trapped sound waves make the star breathe in and out.

It might sound a stretch to talk glibly about ‘the music of the stars’. ‘Really?’ But the answer is yes, stars really make sound. A star like our sun produces oscillations which are very tiny but which are very rich and create many harmonics we can observe. Other types of stars called Cepheids, which are much bigger than our sun have a different structure and produce huge pulsations in this way, which can change their brightness by as much as 20 per cent. You can actually observe those changes yourself with the naked eye through a telescope, but if you looked at the sun, no chance, the oscillations are too small.

How far away are the stars being used for hertz?

Some of the stars we are going to look at in hertz have first been observed by the NASA Kepler Mission and are more than 100 light years from Earth. Light would take more than 100 years to travel from them here to Earth.

What do you hope audience members will gain from seeing hertz?

A greater appreciation that stars do make sound.

Finally, is there life on other planets?

Yes, I think there is. My personal view is that it would be a very strange universe if we were the only life within it. Whether we discover definitive evidence within our lifetimes, remains to be seen, but, no, I don’t think we are alone.

 

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dr graeme marlton (university of reading) interview: hertz unlimited project – awakening ancient fury

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hertz is an innovative research and development project, and the creation of experienced Lead Artist Juliet Robson. It is supported by arts commissioning programme Unlimited, which celebrates the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council England. hertz diversely marries four fields of study: art, astrophysics, mathematics and meteorology. The project aims to allow audiences to discover what noise, trapped inside stars in space, sounds like – and what it looks like in the shape of patterns it creates. Further, hertz aims to translate infrasound, which we cannot hear, into physical sensations people can experience.

Dr Graeme Marlton – a meteorologist and Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the University of Reading – is collaborating on the project and below, describes his role on the team and also what first drew him to hertz.

Before we spoke, I – Glenn Bryant, a journalist – was fortunate enough to experience an early working prototype Juliet and Graeme have constructed. It is a chair hooked up simply to a large speaker. Equipment is attached to one of the chair’s legs, which, when sounds are played through the speaker, propels physical vibrations through the chair and through you, the participant.

 

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What did it feel like? In a word, angry. The vibrations felt awesome, in every sense – overwhelming almost. It was a furious feeling. The infrasounds Juliet and Graeme had unearthed felt very primeval, like they had laid dormant for millennia and now that they were awake, they were not happy we were suddenly privy to their power. It was not a natural sound and, to a layman, did not appear to follow predictable patterns of rise and fall. The jumps in decibels were dramatic and disconcerting, and yet thrilling. And that was only a prototype.

Afterwards, I spoke to Dr Graeme Marlton.

What first attracted you to the project?

Juliet sent the university an email asking if it was possible to do something with the infrasound waves we hear in the atmosphere and to turn them into something tangible for audiences to experience – for example, sending vibrations through a chair people can sit in and feel. I currently am working on a project at the university called Arise, which involves looking at infrasound waves below human hearing measuring 20 hertz or less. In that context, hertz sounded fun and exciting, and something which could introduce infrasound waves to a wider audience.

Have you ever collaborated with an artist previously?

Not strictly, no. My mother was an artist, so I have early memories of sitting with her growing up and drawing together. But working now with Juliet on hertz is a brand new experience for me and a very interesting one. It is interesting seeing how the art world works and how academia works in relation to that. They are very different worlds I am discovering.

Describe your background Andrew.

I started my undergraduate degree at the University of Reading in 2009. That then opened the door for me to study for a PhD, in a very hands-on project with a guy called Giles Harrison measuring atmospheric turbulence using balloons. That took three and a half years. I then became involved in the Arise project again at the University of Reading. I guess one of my areas of expertise is taking observations we record, looking at what the atmosphere is doing at that point and looking at reasons why things like gravity waves are forming. On Arise, we also do a lot of work with helium-filled weather balloons. We place a small package inside which can sense the temperature, wind, relative humidity and atmospheric turbulence. Now we have turned the project on its head somewhat and are looking at gravity waves which are the source of that atmospheric turbulence.

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What is your role on hertz?

My role on the project is to take infrasound recordings, which can be recorded here at Juliet’s studio or wherever we want, run some computer code and software, and turn something that we cannot hear into something audible through equipment like a subwoofer or something like a vibration. We can put those vibrations through an object like a chair, which an audience member can then sit in and experience tangibly first-hand – and experience different atmospheric phenomena: glaciers, volcanoes and thunderstorms, which all produce infrasound.

How will working on hertz benefit your own practice?

The hertz project is unlike anything I have ever worked on before. Infrasound is talked about a lot in academic communities, but more widely, nobody has ever heard of them if you pardon the pun. Through hertz, I hope people want to discover more about infrasound and learn more about why this sound is being produced all the time. We just cannot hear it. I want to showcase the fact through hertz that infrasound is vitally important.

Will you be excited to see how audiences interact and engage with the final work?

It will be fascinating to see how members of the general public perceive hertz. How will they react? We don’t know. But that is exciting.

 

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Dr Andrew Gibbs (University of Reading) interview: hertz Unlimited project – Colliding Advanced Mathematics with Art

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hertz is an innovative research and development project, and the creation of experienced Lead Artist Juliet Robson. It is supported by arts commissioning programme Unlimited, which celebrates the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council England. hertz diversely marries four fields of study: art, astrophysics, mathematics and meteorology. The project aims to allow audiences to discover what noise, trapped inside stars in space, sounds like – and what it looks like in the shape of patterns it creates. Further, hertz aims to translate infrasound, which we cannot hear, into physical sensations people can experience.

Dr Andrew Gibbs – whose PhD is in Applied Mathematics from the University of Reading – is collaborating on the project and here, describes his role on the team and what first drew him to hertz

What first attracted you to the project?

I received an email from the Lead Artist Juliet Robson and it intrigued me. I didn’t know what she really might want from me – she simply said she wanted to work with anyone who knew about sound waves. I replied and said I had done a lot of work with them and modelling them for my PhD so that they look aesthetically pleasing – like ripples on a lake, you could say. Then the more we talked, the more interested I became. Combining science with art is a great concept.

Have you ever collaborated with an artist previously?

No, I haven’t. I have friends who are artists, so it is nice now to actually get involved in that discipline. My PhD heavily involved computational modelling, but never actually creating anything real, so to speak. It is nice to have the opportunity to do that now through hertz. 

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Describe your background Andrew.

I have spent a lot of time at the University of Reading. I completed my undergraduate degree there. I then took some time out working before returning to start my PhD, which I have just finished. I really enjoyed it. I love working with sound in general and I like to play music in my spare time. My PhD broadly focused on sound waves and what happens when they hit obstacles. What bounces back? The idea that the human voice sounds different in a small, contained space compared to how it sounds in a large expanse. For example, if you are constructing a new car: how noisy will it be when you are sat inside it? Or if you are building a concert hall: will the acoustics be terrible or fantastic? The findings from my PhD have a large range of applications.

What is your role on hertz?

I am the go-to maths guy on the team. If Juliet has questions in terms of understanding how the maths is affecting something she is working on, I try to explain it to her in a semi layman way, so she doesn’t have to go away and try and translate the answer from a dense academic textbook. I give her the nice version. I am also writing some software, which will allow us to take the sonic frequencies of stars and adjust them so we can see where the patterns form in the audio range.

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What specifically intrigues you about the project?

I guess in short creating something that everyone can find interesting, combining maths and physics and art. I think it is an important concept and also really lovely. For example, we all go through our day-to-day lives and use GPS on our smartphones or on our sat-navs in cars, but without really understanding how it works. I hope people come away from seeing hertz and want to find out and understand more. Hertz all starts from taking visual measurements from stars. From that we can deduce what they sound like and from that we can fire sound waves through a plate, which causes vibrations and forms unique patterns.

How will working on hertz benefit your own practice?

Like I have said, finally making something physical is really nice for me – rather than writing computer code and models. Working with Juliet and the other collaborators on the project has already been a great experience. It is going extremely well. Juliet is very impressively on top of everything.

 

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Lead Artist Juliet Robson interview: hertz Unlimited project – Art Meets Astrophysics, Mathematics and Meteorology

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hertz is an innovative research and development project, and the creation of experienced Lead Artist Juliet Robson. It is supported by arts commissioning programme Unlimited, which celebrates the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council England. hertz diversely marries four fields of study: art, astrophysics, mathematics and meteorology. The project aims to allow audiences to discover what noise, trapped inside stars in space, sounds like – and what it looks like in the shape of patterns it creates. Further, hertz aims to translate infrasound, which we cannot hear, into physical sensations people can experience.

Here, from her South Oxfordshire studio, Juliet talks about what audiences can expect from the work and also reflects upon the moment she discovered Unlimited were backing her idea

When did you first have the idea for hertz?

It was not one idea, but more a perfect storm of ideas. It was ideas I had had in my sketchbook and it came from research I carried out and then discovering something which became a catalyst. The trigger was about six months ago when I was carrying out research and I learnt that scientists had discovered that stars make sounds like musical instruments. I put that knowledge together with ideas I had previously had and began to look for people who could help me.

Describe hertz in brief?

The work uses hidden frequencies which are generated by natural phenomena around Earth and also by stars. We are connecting the songs of stars to Earth’s hidden resonances through three prototypes which will translate those sounds into visible and tangible experiences for audiences.

What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing the final work?

We hope audiences will take away many things from seeing and experiencing hertz. We will be holding an open studio here in South Oxfordshire, giving demonstrations and making presentations, which will be interactive. We ultimately want audiences to have an extraordinary experience. We want the work to be accessible, tangible and inspirational, and to shine a light on work scientists do. My dad was a research scientist and a botanist, so I grew up learning about the natural sciences. He was incredible skillful, making things which are difficult to grasp fun and accessible and interesting. If hertz can achieve that we will be very happy.

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What do you hope personally to take away from the project?

I hope to build an ongoing relationship with the people and institutions I am collaborating with. I am learning a huge amount myself at the moment and getting inspiration for future projects. This is Research & Development, so I hope to reach a point where the project can go forward. I am ambitious for hertz and I hope to extend my practice in this exciting area.

How exciting is it to collaborate with first the Astrophysics Department at the University of Birmingham and the Meteorology Department at the University of Reading, and also individuals Professor Bill Chaplin, mathematician Andrew Gibbs and meteorologist Graeme Marlton?

It is very exciting. I am still pinching myself that all of this has come together. Bill, Andrew and Graeme are all working in cutting edge areas of research, and the prototypes we are creating for hertz will reflect that. It is exciting for me to work with scientists and it is exciting for them hopefully to work with an artist.

How did the four of you come together?

After first having the idea for hertz – making the sounds of stars tangible – I got in touch with Reading university, where I completed my MFA, because I was very interested in reconnecting there. I sent out a call to action really to see if there were any scientists at the university who would be interested in collaborating on this project and also had expertise and ideas on making hertz’s vision happen. Graeme Marlton works with infra waves, which are very low inaudible frequencies and he came back to me. Andrew Gibbs, who is a mathematician and a musician and whose PhD is in an area of acoustics, came back to me. I then contacted Bill Chaplin at Birmingham and asked if he too would be interested in helping.

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What were your emotions Juliet when you first heard you had won the Unlimited award for 2017?

I was jumping and down. It is a fantastic and highly regarded award from Unlimited which has now been going since 2012. Applying is quite a lengthy process. You first make an expression of interest and put in a short proposal, and once you are successfully through that stage you then put together a much longer proposal. Unlimited has some amazing partners and allies like the Arts Council, British Council, Spirit and Southbank Centre. Artsadmin, Shape and Unlimited really support you. They want your project to work and particularly support artists who have faced barriers previously in their careers. They help level the playing field for those artists, which is fantastic.

What is the next key milestone now for hertz?

The next key milestone is to build the prototypes and to gather the data we need. We are building a Chladni plate, which is a metal plate you send vibrations through. You sprinkle say sand on the top and the sand magically moves into beautiful geometric patterns according to natural frequencies. Dr Andrew Gibbs is currently writing algorithms so that we can take the sounds of stars, pass their frequencies through the Chladni plate and then see what visual patterns the stars make. The other aspect of hertz is to do with the hidden sounds of our planet. Graeme Marlton is going to be installing a sensor in my back garden, which is going to be fun. It will gather infra waves from we don’t know where yet but, for example, the sensors he uses in research can pick up the imperceptible sound of a glacier moving. We want to explore how we feel those vibrations at too low a frequency for us to hear. We also plan to build a machine or a subwoofer which can pick up infra waves in real time, so if for example you are sat in front of it, it would lift the hairs on your arms in real time with say a deep ocean wave off the coast of Brighton.

 

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