27 September 2017

String quartet plays ocean currents

Music meets science in ‘Music by Oceans’

Does the Atlantic Ocean sound different from the Indian Ocean? Are polar ocean currents fundamentally different from those in tropical seas? Composer Stef Veldhuis will join oceanographers Erik van Sebille and Will de Ruijter to answer these and other questions. Around the world, thousands of ocean probes are constantly collecting data for use in weather forecasts and climate models. But the same data can also serve as inspiration for musical elements, such as tone, dynamics and rhythm. On 31 October, a string quartet will play musical compositions inspired by the results, and scientists will talk about the ocean currents upon which the compositions are based.

Music by Oceans - Instagram stef.echo
Data used for Music by Oceans

“This is a radically different way to use our data”, oceanographer Erik van Sebille explains. In his research, he utilises data from Argo probes, which float a kilometre under the surface of the ocean, and surface every ten days to transmit the data they have collected via satellite. Thousands of these sensors collect data on oceans and currents around the world.

“The sensors collect a huge amount of data,” Van Sebille continues, “but at the moment, we can only use nice illustrations and infographics to make sense of it. But is it possible to interpret the data using our other senses as well? Can we perhaps hear something that we cannot observe with our eyes?”

Can we perhaps hear something that we cannot observe with our eyes?
Erik van Sebille

Compositions

Composer Stef Veldhuis has studied the oceanographic data and tried a variety of methods to convert it into music. “The methods differ, as does the degree of intervention”, Veldhuis explains. “Some of the compositions are elaborations on the floats’ course through the water. Others are inspired more by the temperature, or the oceans’ salinity levels. Some of the pieces are direct translations of the data, while in others I’ve taken a bit more liberty.”

Music by Oceans - Instagram echo.utrecht
From data to music

Veldhuis cannot yet say how the resulting compositions will sound. “I’m still working on applying new methods. For example, I would like to connect two different floats, or compose a visual score without notes, in which the musicians are free to interpret a work based on the position, salinity and temperature.”

Interactive website

During the event, an interactive website will also be presented in which visitors can generate their own music based on live data transmitted by the probes.

Symposium

The symposium will be held at Gasthuis Leeuwenbergh, Servaasbolwerk 1a in Utrecht. The doors open at 15:00, and the symposium will begin at 15:30. Admission is free, but please sign up in advance, as seating is limited. The presentations are in Dutch, but of course the musical performances transcend language boundaries. You can find the registration form here.