The Sun Dialogs

(50min – Stereo)

In this composition you’ll hear recorded stories about the Sun – ancient and contemporary mythology from several cultures. I created software that uses data from satellites and ground-based sensors as a guide to fragment the recordings and re-assemble them. Each change you hear reflects a changing feature of the Sun itself.

Throughout recorded history the Sun has been venerated and mythologized. The skies have been crowded with the boats and chariots of solar deities from every continent. The Sun also continues to inspire adoration, hope, and fear in secular ways. Governments and energy companies invest millions to harness its limitless energy. Scientists and sunbathers continue to argue over the dangers of UV exposure. Amateur radio operators rely on “solar weather” when they compete to establish long-distance communications around the globe.

The surface of the sun is the photosphere, characterized by erupting arcs of plasma and magnetic fields. Areas of strong magnetism create dark spots in the photosphere, called sunspots. They recur in similar patterns during each solar rotation, which takes about 27 earth days. On a longer time-scale, the Sun oscillates between maximum and minimum sunspot activity every 11 years. (Sun Dialogs is based on one of these cycles. It begins at maximum activity, then dips to a minimum and rises again.) Sometimes sunspots give rise to solar flares which release massive bursts of radiation toward the Earth. These can interact with Earth’s own magnetic field, causing geomagnetic storms that disrupt radio communication and the electric grid.

This piece is primarily based on eleven years of sunspot maps, created by the US National Solar Observatory. I made a software synthesizer that scans through the data like a visual score and generates a vibraphone note for each sunspot. Pitch is controlled by the sunspot’s latitude and volume is governed by its size. The biggest sunspots also trigger edits in the spoken words, which cut between parallel tracks like changing channels on a TV.  Together they form a continuous story made of tiny fragments: reflections of the sun reordered by its own activity.

Each 27-day solar rotation is represented by a drum, tuned to a multiple of the resonant frequency of the Sun. Geomagnetic storms in our atmosphere create clouds of tiny sound grains, like echoes of the distant vibraphone notes.

This piece brings together solar stories that are diverse and contradictory. There are adventures of Gods and mortals, tales of conspiracy, rebirth, and even self-help, but each one strikes me as an attempt to bring the Sun down to Earth – to place a frame around its impossible remoteness and to hold it for a moment before it rises again.

An earlier version of this piece was commissioned by WGXC and Kunstradio Austria for the “Climactic Climate” broadcast series. Images and solar data from NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory, NSF National Solar Observatory, & NOAA.

About the Series

“Curated by Wave Farm: Climactic Climate” is a five-part series of new radio artworks on the theme of weather radio premiering on Kunstradio, and also airing on Wave Farm’s WGXC-FM in 2015.

The commissioned broadcasts represent a broad spectrum of reflection on transmission in relation to natural environmental conditions. Participating artists harness weather as instrumentation in performance, celebrate the act of environmental observation as compositional score, or imagine and interpret the scientific impact radio transmission has on weather patterns and vice versa.

“Climactic Climate” features works by five international contemporary artists, each of whom approach and interpret conditions of natural radio distinctly. Participating artists include Quintron (New Orleans, US); Mark Vernon (Glasgow, UK); Pauline Oliveros (New York, US); Anna Ialeggio (Los Angeles, US); and Zach Poff (New York, US).