Summary: When the moon passes between the sun and the Earth on August 21, it won’t make a sound—but Exploratorium composer Wayne Grim and the world-famous Kronos Quartet will turn the total solar eclipse into a piece of music unlike any other. The performance will take place at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco and a live-video feed will be available free to all through the Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse app and online.
SAN FRANCISCO (July 20, 2017) – On August 21st, 2017, the Exploratorium will provide five live feeds of the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Madras, Oregon; Casper, Wyoming; and from their campus on Pier 15 of San Francisco’s Embarcadero. These feeds will be free to all and can be found online and on the Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse App, available for iOS and Android. The live video streams will include telescope feeds, video with commentary by Exploratorium and NASA scientists in English and Spanish, and a real-time eclipse sonification produced by Exploratorium staff sound artist and Bay Area composer Wayne Grim in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. The collaboration will offer listeners an opportunity to experience the eclipse in real time as music, and will give Kronos Quartet fans an opportunity to experience a free live stream of this once-in-a-lifetime performance.
Grim’s composition, titled “233rd Day,” will begin at 9:15 a.m. PDT and will last three hours, ending at 12:15 p.m. PDT. Kronos Quartet will join the composition at 10:30 a.m. PDT, and will play live for thirty minutes before, during, and after the totality occurring over Casper. Totality is the name given to the period during which the sun is completely occulted by the moon and it is safe to look at the sun’s corona with the naked eye. But those who are not in the path of totality should never look directly at the eclipse; instead they should use the techniques described in the Exploratorium’s “Safe Viewing Techniques” video or by creating a “Hands-On Sun Viewer.” To find out if you are in the path of totality, to learn the percentage of partial totality that will be visible in your area, and to access more safe viewing videos and information, download the Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse app.
“We’re excited that people all across the world—both those who are in the path of totality and those who are not—will tune in to listen to this composition,” says Exploratorium Physicist Paul Doherty. “Totality will take about three hours to move across the country, and each point along the path will experience only about two minutes of complete occlusion. That means people all across the U.S. will have time to experience the eclipse in person and also listen to Kronos Quartet’s performance as totality occurs in real time in Casper, Wyoming.”
To create the soundscape, Grim will process digital information collected from an array of telescopes and translate that information into an auditory experience. The Exploratorium will stream feeds of the eclipse over Casper from four different telescopes using two different filters. When the telescope feeds switch, the digital information coming in causes the tonal range of the sound to change as well; to hear the music leap and stabilize with each feed transition allows for a piece of music that is not only responsive, but dynamic and fascinating to hear. Grim also incorporates algorithms based on the movement of the planets visible during the dark sky of totality to create the sonification.
This is not the first time Grim has produced a composition of a celestial event; he has also produced compositions for the 2012 Transit of Venus and the 2016 total solar eclipse broadcast by the Exploratorium from Micronesia. This is the first time Grim will be collaborating with the Kronos Quartet.
“The experience of translating astronomical events into music is profound,” says Grim. “You get a chance to listen to light, to understand the relationship between the sun, the moon, and the earth in a new way. I’m elated to have a chance to collaborate with the stars on this piece—I’ve been a fan of Kronos Quartet since I first heard Black Angels, and I’ve been a fan of the sun for literally as long as I’ve been alive.”
The process of translating visual information from the stars into sound is not new; using a process called asteroseismology astronomers measure oscillations in light reaching the earth from celestial bodies and convert that data into sound, producing what has been called “music of the stars” and “star’s song.” Often that music is a sped-up and otherwise modified version of data collected from a single source to produce an audible representation of light; in 2016 researchers from the University of Birmingham translated data into sound from starlight emitted 13-billion years ago. In the case of this summer’s eclipse, you’ll be listening to the sun—not as it is, but as it was 8.5 minutes in the past. And that’s the freshest stellar light available.
About the Kronos Quartet: For more than 40 years, the Kronos Quartet—David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello)—has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually re-imagining the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 50 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, collaborating with many of the world’s most intriguing and accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning more than 850 works and arrangements for string quartet. In 2011, Kronos became the only recipients of both the Polar Music Prize and the Avery Fisher Prize, two of the most prestigious awards given to musicians. The group’s numerous awards also include a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and “Musicians of the Year” (2003) from Musical America.
About Wayne Grim: Wayne Grim’s focus is on composing for small ensembles, making field recordings, designing multimedia works, and developing a generative compositional language that explores temporal extremes. He is the curator for Resonance, an Exploratorium music series, and creates sound installations and composes sound tracks and other pieces for the museum for events including After Dark, exhibits, the Science in the City webcast series, and more. He created a live audio rendering of the 2012 annular eclipse using camera feed, and a live sonification of the 2011 Transit of Venus and 2016 Total Solar Eclipse in Micronesia using live telescope feed. He has also created ringtones using Exploratorium exhibits and ephemera, and has made recordings of unusual instruments. Wayne has performed and collaborated with musicians in the United States, Germany, Japan, and Indonesia.
About the Exploratorium: The Exploratorium is a playful learning laboratory of more than 600 interactive exhibits and experiences that ignite curiosity and transform the way people learn. Since 1969, the Exploratorium has influenced generations of entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, teachers, students, children, museum professionals and everyday doers, reaching nearly 180 million people annually from around the globe.