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Deceptive Cadence

The Sun, The Moon And A String Quartet: Kronos Plays Live To The Solar Eclipse


Score for composer Wayne Grim's "sonification" of Monday's solar eclipse.
Wayne Grim, Wayne Grim
Score for composer Wayne Grim's "sonification" of Monday's solar eclipse.

Preparation for Monday's solar eclipse has focused on safe viewing techniques: Don't forget to don those special "eclipse glasses." But you also may want to insert earbuds, because the ever-intrepid Kronos Quartet will be making music with the sun in real time as the eclipse unfolds. You can stream it live on this page on Monday, Aug. 21, beginning at 12:15 p.m. EDT.

Wayne Grim, a composer based at the Exploratorium, San Francisco's science museum, has devised a way to turn what is essentially a silent viewing event into a musical one as well. He calls it the "sonification" of the eclipse.

At the sun's core, subatomic particles smash into each other. Grim plans to soak up the resulting nuclear fusion and turn it into notes. Photons from the fusion, captured by telescopes in Casper, Wyo., are converted to pixels. Those are sent back into space and relayed via satellite to the Exploratorium, where Kronos is on stage. Grim's special software recasts each pixel's digital fingerprint into unique tones. Kronos will perform with the sounds of the sun, adapting as the eclipse comes and goes.

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Grim has pre-baked part of the music, organizing samples from the quartet into a colorful score with 23 cells that looks more like a collage than your standard staff notation. There aren't any specific instructions; it's a kind of road map to follow as the eclipse proceeds.

This is Grim's initial collaboration with Kronos, but it isn't his first time with "sonification." He created musical evocations of the 2012 transit of Venus and last year's total solar eclipse in Micronesia.

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