28 November 2017

Music meets Science

Music by Oceans

Prof. Will de Ruijter opens the Music by Oceans symposium

What sound does the ocean make? Not the waves breaking on a beach, but the ocean itself? Its currents, temperature and salinity. That is the question we set out to explore in the Music by Oceans project.

The result is an eclectic mix of slightly strange but beautiful and intriguing compositions, premiered before a 200-people audience on the last day of October 2017. It was an event where science met arts; a symposium featuring an oceanographer, a musical composer, and a string quartet. Based on the data gathered by the global Argo floats.

Composer Stef Veldhuis

It all started back in January, when young composer Stef Veldhuis sent out a Tweet that he was in search of an oceanographer that could help him. He was keen to create a composition based on messages in bottles. The tweet got picked up by UU media officer Nieske Vergunst, who contacted the IMAU. Everybody was very excited.

Shortly after initial discussions, the idea of musical compositions based on messages in bottles was left behind. There aren’t enough drifting bottles around. But there are huge numbers of Argo floats, submersible robots that autonomously measure temperature and salinity of the world oceans.

Shortly after initial discussions, the idea of musical compositions based on messages in bottles was left behind. There aren’t enough drifting bottles around. But there are huge numbers of Argo floats, submersible robots that autonomously measure temperature and salinity of the world oceans.

Oceanographer Erik van Sebille

With the help of Will de Ruijter and myself, Stef picked a set of seven of the most interesting Argo floats to base his compositions on. Some of these floats were interesting because of their trajectories. Some were interesting because of the personal connection we had with these float. My own favorite, #5902339, was one that I deployed myself in the Southern Ocean en route to Antarctica.

Stef used the locations, temperature and salinities from these Argo floats as they were carried by ocean currents as the base for variations in harmony, pace, and sometimes even notes of his compositions. In the hands of the string quartet, this led to a moving and touching set of performances.

Erik van Sebille