radio astronomy: a project by r a d i o q u a l i a

Radio Astronomy installation


An exhibition of sounds received by radio telescopes has been installed at two major art and technology festivals in Europe.

The initial exhition of Radio Astronomy was at ISEA2004 in Helsinki in August 2004. The second exhibition was at the Ars Electronica festival of art and technology in Linz, Austria, in September 2004

At these festivals listeners were able to encounter the sounds of space in three ways: - by visiting a sound installation on-site
- by tuning into an FM radio broadcast
- by visiting the live online radio broadcast

The radio transmission and exhibition are comprised of the acoustic output of radio telescopes. Listeners tuning in may hear the planet Jupiter and its interaction with its moons, radiation from the Sun, activity from far-off pulsars, or other astronomical phenomena.

Many of these sounds are fascinating from both an aesthetic and conceptual perspective, prompting comparisons with avant-garde electronic music. Yet very few people have heard these sounds, considering space to be silent, rather than the rich acoustic environment it turns out to be.


About Ars Electronica

For 25 years, Ars Electronica has been tracking and nurturing the digital revolution, analysing the social and cultural effects of digital media and communications technologies, from critical as well as utopian, artistic and scientific perspectives. TIMESHIFT is the title of the 2004 festival. Focussing on the themes of transformation, upheaval and the future, the festival aims to identify the developments that promise to be the driving forces in art, technology and society over the next quarter century.



Astronomical Timeshifting

In keeping with the festival's TIMESHIFT theme, the Radio Astronomy installation at Ars Electronica explored the temporal qualities of astronomical sounds. Ranging from the deep-time rhythms of pulsars to the high-frequency fluctuations of Jupiter's moons, the work is a richly resonant sonic ephemeris.

The sounds presented within the Radio Astronomy transmission and installation require us to radically reassess our concept of time. In order to acoustically make sense of data collected by radio telescopes, it is sometimes necessary for scientists and engineers to alter the temporal range of their data. Data is slowed down or sped up -- in effect it is 'timeshifted'.

Radio signals are in a higher frequency range than the human ear can hear. We can only hear sounds up to about 10 or 20 kHz, but much of the data received by radio telescopes is far higher frequency ranges than this. In order make data collected by telescopes or space probes 'audible' scientists sometimes 'timeshift' the audio, or slow it down. For instance, scientists operating the NASA probe, Galileo, recorded plasma waves from many of Jupiter's moons. In order to make it possible to 'hear' these waves, they had to first cut the data into temporal slices and then play back the waveforms 10 times slower. The process of 'time-shifting' creates remarkably textured glistening soundscape.

Deep Time

On the remote end of the chronological astronomical spectrum are pulsars - the Universe's natural metronomes. A pulsar is a small neutron star which contains an enormous amount of energy which causes it to turn on its axis, or rotate, very rapidly. These metronomic rotations have led to new insights into timekeeping. A HREF="http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/research/pulsar/" TARGET="new">Pulsars are the most accurate clocks known.

Pulses of radiation from these stars can be received by radio telescopes on Earth and translated into audio. Each rotation can be heard as a click, or a beat. Some radio pulsars, such as J1713+07 are far older than the earth itself. By the time the sound of this pulsar reaches our earth-bound instruments, it is over a billion years old. This makes it the oldest known radio broadcast.

Listening to Celestial Timeshifts

Visitors to the Ars Electronica festival could visit the Electrolobby space at the Brucknerhaus to listen to these astronomical sounds. Whilst in the installation space, sounds 'blue-shifted' towards listeners, and 'red-shifted' away, giving listeners the feeling of being in the midst of interstellar traffic.


On-Air

Listeners could also tune into Radio Astronomy using standard transistor radios. It was be broadcast on 105FM in Linz on Radio FRO , and on Shortwave and FM as part of Kunstradio's Long Night of Radio Art.
The extraterrestial signals emanated by the Sun, Jupiter and other astronomical phenomena were broadcast alongside the more prosaic sounds of commercial music and news reports. Some radio listeners may encountered the celestial transmission by chance, while tuning through the radio spectrum, looking for their favourite radio station.


Broadcasting Sounds from Space

r a d i o q u a l i a think of large radio telescopes as radio receivers.


Institut de RadioAstronomie Millimétrique, France & Spain


Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Centre, Latvia


Very Large Array (VLA), NRAO, New Mexico, USA

Unlike normal transistor radios, these receivers are listening to signals being transmitted from planets and stars. Radio Astronomy connects broadcast radio - the transmission of audible information - and the science of radio astronomy - the observation and analysis of radiation from astrophysical objects. The signals from planets and stars are converted into sound and then broadcast on-line and on-air. r a d i o q u a l i a's project is intended a literal interpretation of the term, "radio astronomy" - it is a radio station broadcasting audio from space.


Venue and Opening Hours

Brucknerhaus
Address: Untere Donaulaende 7
A-4020, Linz, Austria

Opening Hours:
03.09.04 - 07.09.04
1000 - 1900